Magnificent Davydenko lifts tennis gloom
Who would have thought that tennis could be rescued by Nikolay Davydenko?These are testing times for the sport with match-fixing investigations, suspensions for unknown players caught having a few cheeky bets, a 2008 calendar which looks more unworkable with every inspection and a court case which threatens to undermine the power of the most powerful man in the sport.And then along comes Nikolay, a slim-line Russian with a receding hairline, to wow us all with some of the most exhilarating attacking tennis we抳e seen for ages and the troubles seem momentarily forgotten.Having received a bye through the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open, Davydenko needed to save match points in his first two rounds before things went crazy - as soon as he was scheduled for the centre court in fact. He took apart Janko Tipsarevic in the quarter-finals, reducing the Serb to a watching statue by the end, elevated his game further to dispatch Andy Roddick in the semis and then, in the performance of his life, took apart Nadal in the final with some startling angles and winners.As he celebrated, grinning in the centre of the court, more than 10,000 Americans rose to give him the warmest standing ovation of his career. It looked rather incongruous but it was thoroughly appropriate. Davydenko, don抰 forget, has been hung out to dry since August when a bookmaker told the world that a match he surprisingly lost in Poland was being investigated for unusual betting patterns. The finger of suspicion has been pointing his way ever since and the investigation continues, still without sign of imminent conclusion.The ATP stresses that it抯 an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding that match in Sopot rather than into Davydenko specifically. They say there抯 no deadline and the work continues behind the scenes to establish the truth. But on the evidence of yesterday, Davydenko is going to be challenging for Grand Slams this year and imagine the confusion and potential embarrassment if a major winner was still under scrutiny in a betting controversy.The reporters from outside tennis descend on the Grand Slams and this story will be top of their agenda if it抯 still running. Only a quick resolution from here will avoid that risk. There's plenty of tennis still to be played before we reach the next major, the French Open at the end of May, and Rafael Nadal is one of those aggrieved about the 2008 calendar.The heart of this year抯 schedule is more jam-packed than usual because of US College Basketball at one end and the Olympics at the other. It means three clay-court Masters Series events inside four weeks and a hard-court summer which takes the players from America in July, to Beijing in August, before a return to the States for the US Open later that month.Outsiders view this schedule with disbelief. What is the sport doing to itself and its players? People like Nadal occasionally kick up a fuss but the sport continues to have too many interested parties, looking after their own slices of the pie, rather than a considered overview and a realisation of the need for change to protect for the long-term.And that抯 where we hit the really serious issue of the moment. Etienne De Villiers is a man who can see through the haze. When he arrived at the ATP as CEO and president he brought an outsider's viewpoint and set about constructing a vision for a new-look calendar, to be launched in 2009. But the minute he started to use his presidential powers, the mutiny began and two tournaments started legal proceedings against the governing body.De Villiers� plan was to downgrade Monte Carlo and Hamburg, creating more breathing space in that hectic European clay swing. Suffice to say, they didn抰 like it much.Monte Carlo reached an out-of-court settlement last year but Hamburg has its legal documents still firmly in the in-tray of the Courts of Delaware. Poor old Hamburg. It抯 a nice tournament with a great history in German, European and world tennis but unfortunately we can抰 have three Masters Series events in four weeks. It抯 just stupid. One has to go, it will be a great loss, but it抯 for the greater good.However, if the German lawyers are successful with their anti-trust legal case, it will effectively rip up the proposed 2009 calendar and De Villiers� vision will be in shatters. How typically tennis. Another settlement seems likely, with Hamburg switching to July and probably some hefty compensation in return, but how can tennis change for the better if every radical proposal is challenged in the courts? And then just as we were worrying about things a little too much, along came Nikolay with his one racket, his spitting-image brother and his wonderful forehand. A stadium of Americans was brought to its feet. He even cracked some gags in the press conference.Strange times these.