Player Profile: Nikolay Davydenko & Fernando Verdasco

This post focuses on an encounter between diminutive Ukrainian Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco, and is complete with a beautifully crisp HD highlights video.

Such a contest between two of the most exciting and talented baseliners in the game presents a perfect opportunity to analyse each players game and describe what makes each man so good at dominating from the back of the court.

As such, it will break down their games into the following categories: Serve, Volley, Forehand, Backhand, Movement and Return of Serve.

(The match took place at the 4th Round of the 2010 Australian Open with Davydenko winning 6-2 7-5 4-6 6-7 6-3)


Verdasco has a good service action and a very ‘live’ arm which results in excellent snap upon pronation of the forearm. He has hit serves up to 140 Mph and can also generate great spin.

However as shocking as it may sound for a top 10 player, Verdasco has never managed to master the ball toss. His toss is extremely inconsistent owing to the fact he doesn’t keep a rigid, linear movement with his right throwing arm and thus the ball often travels too far behind his head. This leads to frequent double faults and he hit no less than twenty in this match alone. With a consistent ball toss (and perhaps a brain transplant for Mr. Verdasco himself), his serve would be a serious weapon.

Davydenko has had his own share of serving problems. No stranger to fits of double faulting, he has improved his serve immensely, cutting down on double faults and vastly increasing the pace on his first delivery. Nonetheless, he tends to takes a percentage approach to serving, often going for a safer first delivery in order to protect his weaker second serve. Where stronger servers will aim for the corners with a 130mph+ delivery, Davydenko will (unless his confidence is high) go for a 90% pace first serve hit with moderate spin to his opponents weaker wing in order to maintain a high first serve percentage.

Not a great deal to comment upon here. Verdasco is extremely limited at the net, both in volleying technique and knowledge of how to approach the net (see 06:10 for a particularly bad approach shot). He generally will only move forward only if lured in by a drop shot or if his opponent is dragged so far off the court that they can only hit a floated lob in response.

Davydenko has improved vastly, to the point where he has been able to consistently hit winning drop volleys against Nadal, widely recognised as one of the best players in the world at passing shots. Like many of his generation, he is better on the backhand side than forehand and lacks the ability to punch the volley, instead relying almost exclusively on drive and drop volleys.


Davydenko is one of the most efficient movers on the tour. His strategy is to always take the initiative in rallies and so likes to stand right on the baseline, only retreating behind it after he has been forced to hit a weak, defensive shot.  The downside of assuming such an offensive position is that he has little time to react to the opponents shot. To balance this, he has developed infallible footwork to complement his natural agility and footspeed. This ensures he is always on balance and set up properly to take the ball on the rise. This in turn takes time away from his opponent and means he is rarely on the defense – however when he is forced into chasing down balls he is more than capable, both with passing shots and defensive slices (See 5:05 for a ridiculous winner hit on the run).

Verdasco has improved on this aspect during the off season of 2009-2010, but at times still appears sluggish around the court. He has developed a strong, muscular build but is not naturally an explosive athlete and his movement suffers for this. When pulled out wide into a defensive position he tends to simply pull the trigger in an all-or-nothing fashion, especially so on the forehand side – a spectacular, rally-ending shot he pulls off with surprising frequency. Quite mediocre when forced to stretch on his backhand side, particularly when hitting a passing shot off-balance.


Davydenko’s forehand is beautiful in its simplicity. The short take back, moderate grip and absolute adherance to textbook form enables him to maximise his exceptional hand-eye co ordination. He is able to take the ball extremely early and hit cross court or down the line with equal ease, but it perhaps lacks one exceptional attribute; he does not have the power of a Berdych, the spin of a Nadal or the and variety of a Federer. Overall it is probably an inferior shot to his backhand.

Verdasco’s forehand has received much praise, and rightly so. It is a beautiful shot which is no less effective than it is aesthetically pleasing. His full western grip allows him to rally with a low-risk, heavily spun forehand which pushes his opponent back and sets up his devastating, point-ending flat forehand. He can also hit extraordinary angles with it it, making it one of the best forehands on tour, and one area in which he has a decided advantage over Davydenko.


A victory for Davydenko.

Verdasco’s backhand is rarely a weapon as he simply is too sluggish in his preparation. Two handed backhands tend to be quite flat hits compared to the one handed variety, but Verdasco actually brushes up on the ball and has a more Nadal-esque follow through. Similar to his Spanish compatriot, his backhand usually functions simply as a shot to set up his forehand, but can pummel it when really in the mood. Even so, he will always need time to set up when going down the line.

Davydenko hits a far flatter backhand, with a short and confident backswing. The result is that he is able to take the ball earlier, hit harder and has more possibility to change the direction of the ball (something Verdasco struggles with). He has a devastating cross court backhand which has tormented Nadal in their hard court meetings, and an equally punishing down the line backhand. While perfectly capable of hitting acute angles, he doesn’t tend to do so unless provoked by his opponent with angle of their own.

Return of Serve

On second serve, Davydenko is one of the best in the world at punishing weak deliveries. Verdasco can be devastating when he chooses to run around his backhand and crack a forehand but is not active enough in doing so.

Davydenko is also the superior returner of first serves owing to his superior reaction speed and shorter take backs, despite having a smaller wingspan than the taller Verdasco.



4 Comments on “Player Profile: Nikolay Davydenko & Fernando Verdasco”

  1. […] Two exciting young talents scraped through in five sets, with Grigor Dimitrov overcoming the erratic big-hitting Jeremy Chardy 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, while the great white hope of Austrlian tennis Bernard Tomic came back from a two set deficit against notorious headcase Fernando Verdasco. […]

  2. mariposaxprs says:

    Great analysis of two great players, Verdasco and Davydenko!

    While I’m not a full-fledged fan of Fer, I do think he has a solid game that can be dangerous when it’s on. I agree w/your observation about Verdasco’s serve—it is a technically solid shot of his that gets shot down b/c of his ball toss issues. I’m often surprised when I see Fer’s first serve stats, b/c they’re often much better than I expect them to be. It’s surprising that Fer has trouble with his on-court movement, given he’s not so tall that his height would pull him back. His mobility was at its best after he trained w/Gil Reyes in the winter of ’08. He seems to have gained weight since then, which might be a hindrance for him.

    Your analysis of Davydenko’s game is also very interesting reading. He *does* play a very offensive game, which you wouldn’t expect given his shorter height. The winner he hits at 5:05 is amazing stuff. There’d been so much hope for him after his 2009 WTF win, but it’s too bad injuries derailed his progress.

    Out of curiosity, did you/do you play tennis actively? You have a very clear way of looking at each player’s game and analyzing their tactics/game.

    • tennisniche says:

      Thanks for the kind words Maripo

      It does seem he’s gained a bit of weight and become quite sluggish in his movement. At 28 I can’t see him returning to the form of 2009, barring a major life turnaround ala Agassi. Davydenko is also past his best days, but I think he probably extracted a bit more from his talents than Verdasco has.

      I do play tennis quite regularly – I played for my University and did some coaching before that, but at the moment I’m still struggling to find a decent club having finished Uni and returned to London. Thankyou, I do hope the small amount of playing experience I have gives me some insight into the technical side of the game 🙂

  3. Arienna Lee says:

    This is a very descriptive and interesting analysis! I’ve noticed that Verdasco’s toss is quite unsteady, but haven’t been able to pinpoint why… so thanks. I’m going to watch the arm next time. I find some of the technical aspects so hard to discern on television, and then, I’m no expert. My understanding of the game (as a psychologist) is primarily emotional. For kicks, here’s my take on Fernando:

    It’s nice to see Davydenko in fine fettle once more. I hope he gets another good year or two out of his quick game.

    Anyway, I followed this link through Mariposa’s blog & now I’ll be back for more technical analysis!

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