Washington: David Nalbandian, in top form after nagging injuries, reached his first ATP final since January of last year, ousting Croatian fourth seed Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 at the Washington Classic.
The 28-year-old veteran from Argentina on Saturday took advantage of 27 unforced errors from the Australian Open semi-finalist to advance and likes his chances in Sunday’s hardcourt final against eighth seed Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.
“When I’m playing this good, I’m tough for everybody. It doesn’t matter who is on the other side,” Nalbandian said.
“I’m doing good things, trying to be more offensive. Win or lose, I’m playing at a good level. If it’s not this week, it’s going to be another week.”
Nalbandian, ranked 117th, was sidelined nine months after hip surgery, made a brief return early this year, then missed two months with a sore hamstring before coming back in July to help Argentina reach the Davis Cup semi-finals.
“My surgery was not an easy one. Not many players come back from that,” said Nalbandian. “I never felt any pain when I was practicing back. I’ve had a good recovery. All the time I’m feeling good.”
Baghdatis shrugged off a left ankle injury in the second set to beat Belgian Xavier Malisse 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) in the other semi-final. The 25th-ranked Cypriot seeks a fifth career ATP title and his first since this past January at Sydney.
Nalbandian, seeking his 11th career title and first since 19 months ago at Sydney, missed the past six Grand Slam events, had not played an ATP event since April and had not made a semi-final since February 2009 at Buenos Aires.
But he outclassed the 13th-ranked player in the world with ease.
“He was really consistent and put a lot of pressure on me,” Cilic said. “He was able to control a lot of points. He didn’t miss many balls. I can’t blame myself for too many things. He played well. He was not giving me any openings.
“He’s going to be a really tough player to beat these next couple of weeks.”
Nalbandian has lost three of four prior matches with Baghdatis, including a 2006 Australian Open semi-final and their most recent meeting in the third round at Wimbledon in 2007.
“David is quick on his feet, likes to open the court a lot,” Baghdatis said. “He likes to move you around the court.”
After an exchange of breaks to open the match, Nalbandian denied Cilic on two break points to hold in the fifth game, then broke Cilic in the sixth and eighth games on netted forehands from the European to claim the first set.
Nalbandian broke Cilic with a cross-court forehand winner to seize a 2-0 lead in the second set and broke again to win when Cilic netted a backhand on match point.
“I returned good. That made me play with more confidence,” Nalbandian said. “I tried to pressure him and that worked.”
Baghdatis, reunited last month with coach Guillaume Peyre of France because “we had unfinished business”, could return to the top 20 after a rankings slide from the top 150 last year with wrist and back injuries.
Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open runner-up, went down in the eighth game of the second set as Malisse missed a break chance by hitting a backhand long.
“I just twisted my ankle a little bit,” Baghdatis said. “I felt it a bit. Now it feels OK. But I was a bit scared. That’s why I fell down. But I got it taped. I was moving around and I was fine.”