Argentina’s Nalbandian became the first player ranked outside the top 100 to win an ATP title in 2010, using his typically strong service returns and effective baseline game to beat No. 25 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-2, 7-6 (4) on Sunday in a Legg Mason final between two past Grand Slam finalists.
It’s Nalbandian’s 11th career title, but his first on U.S. soil, and first anywhere in 1½ years. He hadn’t entered a tournament since April, sidelined by a bad left hamstring. Before that, Nalbandian missed nearly 10 months starting in May 2009 because of hip surgery.
Now the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up is back on tour and back to giving opponents fits, particularly with his returning. He broke four of the first seven times Baghdatis served.
Baghdatis had a chance to extend the match while leading 6-5 in the second set. He held a set point at 30-40 on Nalbandian’s serve, but put a forehand into the net on a 10-stroke exchange. Nalbandian eventually held serve there, then surged to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker.
Nalbandian had problems with his serve throughout the second set, and he hit his seventh double-fault of the day on his first match point. But Baghdatis missed a forehand on the next point to end the match after 1 hour, 59 minutes.
Nalbandian has reached at least the semifinals five times at major championships, and was ranked as high as No. 3. But all of the recent time off, including skipping the past six Grand Slam tournaments, contributed to a slide down the rankings that dropped him to 161st.
He’s climbing his way up, expected to return to the top 50 on Monday. The unseeded Nalbandian was impressive all week, winning 12 of 13 sets while upsetting four seeded players: No. 4 Marin Cilic, No. 7 Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 13 Gilles Simon, and No. 8 Baghdatis, who lost to Roger Federer in the 2006 Australian Open final.