- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

PARIS (AP) - Nikolay Davydenko blew a two-set lead yesterday at the French Open, then offered an explanation for his suddenly shaky play: nerves.

The two-time Roland Garros semifinalist said he became rattled when the momentum swung, and he was unable to halt a comeback by Ivan Ljubicic, who won 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

“First two sets he didn’t play,” the fourth-seeded Davydenko said. “Then he start to fighting a little bit more. … That’s why I was starting to be nervous, start to make so many mistakes.”

Davydenko has played some of the best tennis of his career in recent months, despite an ATP investigation into heavy wagering on a match he lost last August at an obscure tournament in Poland.

He retired in the third set of that match, citing a foot injury. Davydenko says he did nothing wrong and has accused the ATP of dragging out the investigation.

Injury wasn’t the problem against the No. 28-seeded Ljubicic, a 2006 French Open semifinalist. Both players held up well physically playing for more than three hours on a mild, overcast afternoon.

Davydenko won more points, but Ljubicic won the biggest ones, converting all five break-point chances. The big-serving Croatian closed out the victory with a slam volley, then collapsed on his back in glee.

Davydenko, who beat former Grand Slam champions Thomas Johansson and Marat Safin in the first two rounds, was considered a likely semifinal opponent for top-ranked Roger Federer. Instead, he was left with the feeling of “losing very fast” despite playing five sets.

“I try come back in the fifth set,” he said. “But, you know, it was too late.”

Scottsdale connection

Even with no players from the United States left in women’s singles at the French Open, Arizona still has a rooting interest.

Victoria Azarenka is from Belarus but has lived and trained the past two years in Scottsdale, and now she’s in the fourth round at Roland Garros. The No. 16-seeded Azarenka beat No. 18 Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-1, losing only six games in three matches this week.

The 18-year-old Azarenka even sounded just like an American teen, saying: “I was a little bit nervous, but then last two matches I was in the zone.”

Since the start of the year, she has climbed in the rankings from 30th to a career-high 17th.

“This year I improved a lot my forehand, which was my weak shot,” she said. “Now it’s like my weapon, which helps me a lot.”

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