When David Nalbandian retires from the tour, he will not be leaving for a second career in Argentina’s diplomatic corps. The South American, a beaten Wimbledon finalist some ten years ago, has not softened much with age as he demonstrated at Melbourne Park by calling an umpire “stupid” after his second-round defeat to America’s John Isner. Maybe there was something to Nalbandian’s complaint about the official, who made a controversial over-rule deep into the fifth set, but he did not further his cause with his choice of the world “stupid”. Welcome to ‘David Nalbandian’s Charm School’.
Keep in with the popular players in the locker-room. A disagreement over a linecall had Nalbandian insulting Tim Henman one year at a tournament in Madrid. “All this selling himself as a gentleman is not true. He is the worst rubbish there is,” said Nalbandian after the dispute resulted in the previously unimaginable – Henman trash-talking all the way through the changeover. It takes a lot to provoke Henman into standing over his seated opponent, shouting his side of the story, but Nalbandian managed it. “He started questioning my gamesmanship,” Henman said. “So I think if we’re going to go down that road, there’s only going to be one winner in that debate.”
Make friends (in the media) and influence people. “Often – too often for polite company – David Nalbandian could not be bothered,” Christopher Clarey of the New York Times wrote recently. “While other prime-time tennis players of his generation might have heard a troublesome question, exhaled and given a thoughtful response, Nalbandian has long specialised in the curt reply, with the hard set of his strong features and the tight fold of his arms forming an impressive barrier to further dialogue.”
Do not upset the locals. One year at the Australian Open, Nalbandian bumped shoulders with Lleyton Hewitt as they crossed during a change of ends. Nalbandian had taken exception to Hewitt’s cries of “C’mon”, which he called “ungentlemanly”. Nalbandian further suggested that Hewitt had no friends. The Australian said his opponent had been “looking for a bit of shoulder”.
Get the crowd on your side. At the 2006 Wimbledon Championships, while playing on an outside court, he screamed out at the crowd in Spanish, which reportedly translated as: “You f—— English whores.”
During Davis Cup ties, help maintain the team spirit. The Argentine media reported during the 2008 Davis Cup final, a tie the South Americans lost to Spain, that Nalbandian had had “a forceful” exchange of views with his team-mates. Nalbandian reportedly suggested to Juan Martin del Potro that he had undermined Argentina’s chances by competing at the Masters Cup in Shanghai as the trip to China had cut into his preparations for the final. It was further alleged that Nalbandian and his doubles partner, Agustin Calleri, had had a confrontation after they lost the doubles rubber. On the afternoon after the final, Nalbandian called his own, one-man press conference at a hotel in Mar del Plata to deny the reports that he had squabbled with his team-mates.