Davydenko wins his fame game

Low-profile Russian sees off an exhausted Del Potro to claim ATP World Tour title
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The Independent Online

Maybe people will start asking for Nikolay Davydenko's autograph now. The top 10 player with the lowest profile in tennis admitted last night that he had not been troubled once for his signature since arriving for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, but after beating Juan Martin del Potro to claim the biggest win of his life Davydenko said he was looking forward to being "just a little bit famous here".

Although the final was one of the poorest matches of the week, that was of no concern to the new world No 6, who won 6-3, 6-4 to earn $1.51m (about £916,000), the largest cheque of his career. Davydenko is only the third winner in the 40-year history of these end-of-season championships without a Grand Slam title to his name. Although 28-year-old Davydenko hit a career-high No 3 in the world rankings three years ago, he has spent almost his whole career flying under the media radar. When the press met the players before the tournament began there were huge throngs around Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, while Davydenko was hardly troubled. Even when the table he was sitting at collapsed barely anybody noticed.

Until now almost the only occasion when Davydenko did attract the media's attention was when a betting exchange voided all wagers on one of his matches at a tournament in Poland two summers ago. The Russian retired hurt against the unfancied Martin Vassallo Arguello, who had been heavily backed by punters. After a lengthy investigation no charges were brought against either player.

If the Russian lacks charisma, there can be no doubting his talent. At only 5ft 10in tall and less than 11 stone, he is comparatively small, particularly in comparison to a 6ft 6in giant like Del Potro. He relies on his consistently aggressive ball-striking, speed around the court and eagle eye — he takes the ball earlier than almost anyone — to wear down opponents. "He's very fast," Del Potro said. "He plays like PlayStation, running everywhere. It's very difficult to make winners against him."

The crowd was again a 17,500 sell-out, although there were a number of empty seats. Some who had bought tickets in advance were no doubt hoping to see at least one of the world's top four in action. One spectator brought a placard saying "Come on Del Potro!" on which the names of Federer and Novak Djokovic had been crossed out.

After his semi-final victory over Robin Soderling the night before, Del Potro got to bed at 3am yesterday. Back on court 11 hours later, he looked exhausted. Following his US Open victory the 21-year-old Argentinian had won only two matches before arriving in London, though he was eventually only one victory away from replacing Andy Murray as world No 4.

The only break in the first set came in the fourth game. At deuce, having already saved one break point, Del Potro was foot-faulted having hit what he thought was a first serve ace. After the first of three staring contests with the line judge and a discussion with the umpire the Argentine lost the next two points with unforced errors.

Del Potro never shows the most positive body language on court, but for the next few minutes he moped around like a gaucho who had been given a donkey in exchange for his horse. A baby crying in the crowd did not seem to help his concentration and Davydenko served out for the set.

The Russian made the only break of the second set — to love – in the ninth game. After completing his collection of 2009 Grand Slam champions' scalps — he had already beaten Federer (at the 13th attempt) and Nadal earlier in the tournament — Davydenko threw his racket to the floor and thrust his arms skywards in celebration.

If he was not the winner that organisers had hoped for, the event has, nevertheless, been a huge success, drawing the biggest crowds ever to watch tennis in Britain and the highest aggregate attendance (256,830) for a tournament other than Wimbledon. The championships are here until 2013 and their future success looks guaranteed.