Quick Take: David Nalbandián Announces his Retirement from Tennis


While the news that Nalbandian is retiring isn’t surprising, it’s sad to see a player as gifted as him having to call it a career due to an injury.

Nalbandian has been a polarizing figure in the tennis community. Some people love him, citing his incredible talent and ability to push the best players to their limits, while some people hate him because of some of the silly things he did, like injuring a linesperson at the Queen’s Club or driving Juan Martin del Potro, Argentina’s best player, away from the Davis Cup team indefinitely.

Personally, I will miss his game. While it hasn’t led to success, I’ll miss the passion (and drama) he brought to the Argentinean Davis Cup team. Unfortunately, he will always be remembered for what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do. That’s the curse of tremendous talent.

I’ll just leave you with this:

Juan José

This truly is the Year of the Unsurprising Retirement in the ATP. Though you can probably extend that to 2012, too. It does seem like a generation of players has started to say goodbye to tennis much in the same way as the Elves left Middle Earth. Their time has run out.

David Nalbandián made a late start to 2013, at the indoor clay event in Sao Paulo. There he showed encouraging signs that his time might not be up yet – in his first event in over six months he made a run all the way to the final. There, he met another comeback kid: Rafael Nadal. The (now) imminent World No. 1 had struggled all week in Brazil, so Nalbandián was actually seen as the favorite in that final, given how good he had looked in his previous matches. Lest we forget, Nadal had just lost a clay final to a much worse Argentine (Horacio Zeballos) the previous week.

Alas, the 13-time Major champs’ return to top form started to materialize precisely in that final, while Nalbandián played his worst match of the week. David would only play six more tour matches, and he wouldn’t win two matches in a row again. He even got bageled twice on his way to a 2-6 mark that saw him play an ATP match for the last time in Miami.

David Nalbandián retires with the dubious distinction one of the the best male tennis players never to win a Slam. He won 11 titles in his career, which include a 2005 World Tour Finals (beating Roger Federer in the final), a 2007 Masters 1000 in Madrid (beating Federer in the final), and two weeks later, another Masters 1000 in Paris (beating Rafael Nadal in the final). He made one Slam final (Wimbledon in 2002), and four other Slam semis (US Open in 2003, Roland Garros in 2004 and 2006, and Australian Open 2003). Nalbandián made it as far as World No. 3, back in 2006.

That sounds quite like an illustrious career, right?

And yet, it’s a resumé of someone who could and should have done better. Through the years, I’ve come to think that David might not have enjoyed tennis all that much. He is one of those athletes who is forced into doing something intensely from a young age, and while they’re extremely talented at it, would rather do something else instead. In his case, play soccer or even better, indulge in his rally racing obsession.

When people asked him what his goals were, it felt like he knew the answer that was expected from him (win a Slam, be No. 1), and would deliver it without a whole lot of conviction. Yes, those goals made sense for someone who played the game of tennis with as much ease as he did. But I’m pretty sure that the fire necessary to drive an individual to achieve those extremely difficult goals just wasn’t inside the man from Córdoba. The one goal where you could see that fire was Davis Cup. Nalbandián led the team to two finals, but came away empty-handed both times, despite winning all 3 singles rubbers he played (unfortunately for him, he lost both doubles rubbers alongside his already-retired compatriot Agustín Calleri).

One can only imagine what Nalbandián would’ve achieved if he had been as motivated as the members of the current Big 4 (or say, David Ferrer). He was an elite returner of serve, a deceptive mover around the court, possessed extremely good feel for the ball in the forecourt, and of course, owned one of the great backhands that the sport has seen. That’s more than enough to win a Slam, even if his serve oscillated between decency and mediocrity, and his forehand wasn’t the most reliable.

If one thing is certain it is that David Nalbandián will be much happier now that his tennis career is over. No more travelling, no more conditioning, no more time away from Córdoba, his cars, and now his own family. No more doing that thing everyone expected of him. No more press conferences, no more 11 am matches (in later years he was a lock to lose to anybody if he was made to go out and start the day’s play). It’s all over, and tennis has provided him with more than enough resources (over $11 million in prize money alone) for him to have a comfortable existence. Tennis fans in Argentina love him dearly.

As for us tennis fans, we have the tapes from that Shanghai WTF final against Federer, as well as his runs in Madrid and Paris. Proof of a unique talent that went only partially fulfilled.


Aaaah. Say it isn’t so. I’m having such a hard time saying goodbye to yet another one of the players who introduced me to tennis.

I mean, you can say what you want about Generation New Balls Please, but one thing they didn’t lack is personality and a “wildcard” factor. With another one biting the dust in Nalbandian, the tennis tour is certainly a lot less exciting today. And less scary. And less adorable.

As someone who wasn’t as accustomed to the fall swing when Nalbandian took over it in 2007–though I have certainly gone back and watched matches–my biggest memories of Nalbandian come from way back in 2002 and 2003 at the quaint tournaments known as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Of course, he made the final of 2002 Wimbledon, taking out one of my favorite players.

It’s probably for this reason that I never became a diehard fan of Nalbandian back in the day–he was on the other side of too many big tennis moments for me. But I was always drawn to Nalbandian when he played. It was the passion. It was the backhand. But most of all, it was the possibilities he brought with him onto the court.

Even up until the very end, when he took the court you somehow believed that absolutely anything was possible. He could turn into GOATbandian and give any of the top guys headaches. He could lose to people who had just picked up rackets. And he could completely combust at any possible moment, which lead to some of his most infamous moments.

There are a lot of players that are unpredictable, but very few that had the innate range of uncertainty that Nalbandian did.

Of course you can’t talk about him without acknowledging the question marks. It does seem, of that someone of his talent should have more than 11 titles, should have even won a Grand Slam. It seems cruel that his commitment to Davis Cup didn’t leave him with a trophy. It’s maddening that he couldn’t have been more.

And yet, as frustrating as he was, he was always a sympathetic figure. Perhaps it was the incessant injuries, or the occasional potbelly, or the fact that he just kept on trying no matter how much he got in his own way, but Nalbandian seemed like a tennis player that a lot of the fans could relate to. After all, most of us know what it’s like to have a few “what-ifs” in our lifetime.

But Nalbandian never seemed to wallow in the regrets, and I hope that as he says goodbye to tennis in a most frustrating way–down on form and down on luck–that he can remember the good times. I sure know that I will.

Enjoy fatherhood, Nalby. Thanks for the memories.

5 Responses

  1. Lindy
    Lindy October 1, 2013 at 11:13 pm |

    Is it true that Nalbandian is Spanish for fucktard?

  2. Faye
    Faye October 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm |

    That picture of DelPo and Nalby, happier times. Would have been a Davis Cup dream team with the two of them in the Argentine squad, but wasn’t meant to be. Going to miss his tennis, that backhand, and when everything clicks, glorious to watch.

  3. Master Ace
    Master Ace October 2, 2013 at 10:53 am |

    Juan Jose,
    That deep run in 2007 was a good thing. The main topic in the 2007 offseason was Nalbandian was going to make another deep run(if not win) a Slam in 2008 as long as he stayed healthy. If I recall, he made the final at Auckland in his warmup tournament telling the world that he is ready. However, he lost in 3rd round at AO in straight sets to Robredo and the scores were not close. After that Slam, he was not mentioned in the top line of being a serious contender to win a Slam.

  4. Matt Zemek
    Matt Zemek October 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm |

    Nalbandian was (I guess you can use the past tense with him now that he’s retired…) one of tennis’s biggest underachievers, and for that reason, I don’t view him fondly even though seeing his backhand and point construction were immensely pleasurable experiences.

    As much as I hate seeing talent go to waste, I must concede that Nalbandian didn’t enjoy particularly good fortune. He had match point against Roddick in the third-set tiebreaker of the 2003 U.S. Open semifinals. Maybe Ferrero would have beaten him in a Sunday final (probably so), but Nalbandian could have drawn great strength from winning that Roddick match. It was the first of a few tipping-point moments to go against him.

    2006 represented the year that destroyed him as a major-tournament force.

    First of all, Nalbandian had no business losing to Baghdatis in a match he led by two sets and then 4-2 in the fifth. That’s probably the performance that defines the major-tournament portion of his career. No luck was involved there; Nalbandian just failed.

    At Roland Garros, though, fortune didn’t smile on him. He was kicking the crap out of Federer and then suffered an injury. My recollection of the match is that the second set was very much in question when the injury occurred, even though Nalbandian didn’t retire until late in the third. (I could be wrong.) Had Nalbandian won that match, one might have seen a sustained renewal in the Argentine’s career. Instead, he ceased to be a factor at majors and was only good for those autumnal indoor runs at times.

    As great as the past 10 years of men’s tennis have in fact been, just imagine what life would have been like with:

    A gritty Nalbandian.

    A focused Safin.

    A healthy Soderling.

    Man… (men).

  5. Fernando
    Fernando October 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm |

    Fernando says The Great Ball Striker was one the one player that exasperated Fernando more than anyone else. Nalbandian is a lesson for anyone who wants to become a champion in any field of endeavor. Talent alone will not get you there. You must have a champion’s mindset to work hard, train, make improvements, study tactic , have mental strength and resolve. And most important, you must want to be a champion more than anything else in the world.

    Fare the well, Great Ball Striker. Fernando hopes that when you look back upon your great career, you will have no regrets.

    I am Fernando @ vivafernando

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