As Nikolay Davydenko sat in an armchair at the media centre in Roland Garros surrounded by less than a handful of journalists, the Russian couldn’t help but admit that his loss to Robin Haase on Monday might be the very last match of his career.
The former world No3 will drop out of the top-100 after the French Open (he is now at 92) and as he explains how his body continues to fail him and how low he is on practice, it gets easier to understand why he is considering calling it quits.
Following his 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 defeat to Haase, Davydenko was asked whether that might have been his final match of his career and the Russian said: “Maybe. I won’t say now but I will decide. Now my ranking will be under 100 after Paris.
“What I need to do is see if I will continue this year after Paris or not. For sure I will not play Wimbledon, I’m skipping the grass completely. I’m in the Wimbledon main draw, normally I would go there but I will pull out of Wimbledon for sure. I have no interest playing there.”
In his own words, the last time Davydenko felt good on court was in 2010 before he broke his wrist.
His wrist is not the problem at the moment, but he says it is painful for him to practice well and he can’t measure up to how he was in the past.
“I’m practicing but I don’t run so much. The feeling is that I can’t do what I did before. I can’t run like that,” he explains.
“If I’m not running, I start making mistakes. I played my maximum tennis today and I couldn’t do anything. Today I had no chance to win (against Haase).
“If I start to practice very hard I start to get pain and injuries and I can’t hold my practicing level. That’s why I’m not able to get good results on tournaments.”
Davydenko has won only six matches this season and the last of his 21 titles came in Munich three years ago. He came close in the Doha final last year against Richard Gasquet, which made it seem that things were turning around for him. But he then won only 18 matches for the rest of the season.
But with his recent problems what has been motivating him to continue?
“I don’t know really. Maybe it’s because of my brother,” Davydenko said when asked about what has kept him going.
“He’s been telling me to continue playing, to practice, he’s always pushing me every year, telling me to try and find solutions, how I can feel better or what I can do.
“For sure it’s tough to find this.”
While he is unable to give a definitive answer as to whether he will finish the season or not, or when he will decide, he is certain about one thing – he will never play Challengers or quallies.
“I told myself before I will never go back to the start again. I will not play Challengers and I will not play ATP quallies. If I would like to continue this year I can for sure get wild cards.
“If I will decide ‘yes maybe I need to continue this year’ but then I need to practice and really I don’t want to practice.
“That’s why I need to decide what I need to do. Because if they give me wildcards I need to practice again and need to prepare for these tournaments. Going just for fun is stupid.”
He seems more inclined to quit than continue and he says he’s had numerous discussions with recently retired players who not too long ago were his peers, like Ivan Ljubicic, who now coaches Milos Raonic.
Davydenko feels that the consensus is: Retirement is bliss!
He says: “I asked every player who finished their career and they all told me it’s a very good feeling, best feeling ever. Last year I asked Jonas Bjorkman, I asked Ivan Ljubicic and others and they said it’s perfect. I hope I will be feeling the same way.”
Does he see himself following in Ljubicic’s footsteps and end up coaching? “I don’t want to say no and I don’t want to say yes. Normally I don’t want to coach but who knows what can happen in five to 10 years.
"I saw players I was playing 10 years ago and they’re now coaching. It can happen. But you know being a coach is not being a player. You can drink beer!” he said with a laugh.
If he does choose to end his career now, he can find solace in the fact that he’s the only player in the top-100 (and possibly amongst all active players) to have a positive head-to-head record against Rafael Nadal. He refuses to brag about it though.
“I won all the matches on hard courts. I don’t think I can beat him now on, any surface,” he insists.
Throughout his career, he made four Grand Slam semi-finals (including two here in Paris) and six more quarter-finals, but he never made it to the finish line. Does he regret being around Roger Federer and Nadal in the same era?
“The one reason why I beat everyone who was in the top-10 is that it’s a good feeling,” was his response.
I guess that means he loved every minute of it. But he doesn’t plan to stick around – à la Marion Bartoli – if he does call it quits.
“If I stop completely I don’t think I’ll come next year to any tournaments,” he confesses. “Maybe I’ll forget what tennis is in a couple of years. I don’t follow really tennis because I don’t know the results, it’s for me not really interesting.
“It will be a different life.”