Legg Mason Tennis Classic
Nalbandian tops Baghdatis to capture Legg Mason title
After a booming serve forced Marcos Baghdatis into his 31st and final error - the one that clinched David Nalbandian's victory in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic Sunday - fans in the upper grandstands erupted in cheers.
"Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!" they sang. "David! David!"
For a moment, it felt like a soccer celebration, with Nalbandian being serenaded as Argentina's man of the match.
Nalbandian's 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) defeat of the eighth-seeded Baghdatis marked the third consecutive year that Washington's hard-court classic has been won by an Argentine. Juan Martin del Potro, 21, seven years his junior, won back-to-back titles before him.
This time last summer, however, Nalbandian might have been pegged as the South American least likely to triumph here this week, just three months removed from major hip surgery that has signaled the end of a competitive career for other tennis pros.
But in his first visit to Washington, the 28-year-old Nalbandian transformed the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center into a home court with powerful recuperative powers, thrilling Argentine supporters with his consistent on-court excellence and, in the process, winning over fans who had bought tickets hoping to see Andy Roddick on the final day instead.
Having missed 10 months of match play over the last year and half because of the surgery, followed by a hamstring injury, Nalbandian needed a wild-card entry from tournament officials to qualify for the 64-player field, his ranking a lowly 117th.
But in six matches over seven days, Nalbandian lost only one set (to Gilles Simon of France in the quarterfinals) and, barring a stretch in the second set of Sunday's championship, was a paragon of power and precision.
In addition to the $262,000 he collected for his 11th career title, Nalbandian is projected to surge 72 spots in the rankings-from 117 to 45.
Baghdatis, 25, who sloughed off a poor start to mount a more credible challenge in the second set, intimated that would still understate the ability of Nalbandian, who climbed as high as No. 3 in the world in 2006.
"If he plays [the way he did Sunday], he can beat a lot of guys in the top 10," said Baghdatis, who is also in the process of reclaiming his place in the sport after undergoing wrist surgery.
Nalbandian said he pays little attention to the ranking beside his name. Far more important, he insisted, was regaining the consistency that characterized his shot-making before his hip surgery.