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Davydenko pushes past Nadal for Sony Ericsson title

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Nikolay Davydenko began the Sony Ericsson Open in a supporting role, competing on smaller courts while the likes of Roger Federer and Andy Roddick slugged it out in the stadium.

But on Sunday, it was Davydenko holding the championship trophy to cheers from a sellout crowd. He beat Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-2 and became the first Russian man to win Key Biscayne.

"For me it's mostly crazy," he said.

In recent months, Davydenko has been best known for 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, citing a foot injury, and says he did nothing wrong.

He has accused the ATP of dragging out the investigation, but it proved not to be a distraction at Key Biscayne.

"It's not every day in my mind," he said. "It's in my mind if you ask me about this. ... I don't think about the investigation. It should be my lawyer thinking, and my manager."

There was no question about his effort against Nadal. Davydenko broke at love to take the lead for good at 4-3 in the first set, and in the second set he lost only two of 19 points on his serve to pull away.

When the No. 4-seeded Davydenko belted one final forehand winner on championship point, he grinned and shook his fists, then punched the air.

Davydenko overcame a match point in the second round against Ernests Gulbis and became the fourth ATP player in 2008 to win a title after facing match point. He beat Roddick in the semifinals.

"He's playing unbelievable tennis," the No. 2-seeded Nadal said. "People like to write more about Roger, about me, about Andy. People outside tennis can think different about Nikolay, but we know he's a very, very good player."

Davydenko is ranked fourth and has finished each of the past three years in the top five. But he has yet to reach a Grand Slam final, and the Key Biscayne title was only his second in a Masters Series event.

He also won a U.S. tournament for only the second time, and he laughed when asked if the accomplishment will make him famous.

"Famous? Here? Yes, I would say if I would like to be famous, I need to win tournaments here," he said. "For beginning of tournaments I don't want to play on center court. It was good for me to play on court one or grandstand, and to feeling little a bit more confidence."

Davydenko quickly became comfortable with a new racket model he tried for the first time at Key Biscayne. He used the same racket in all six matches.

"I have only one," he said. "Surprising I didn't break a string. Warm up and play match, warm up and play match, every match, and I finish with the racket. I'm going to keep forever this racket."

In the final, that racket delivered serves at up to 132 mph, allowing the 5-foot-10 Davydenko to win five service games at love. He totaled 19 winners and had only 12 unforced errors, and his penetrating groundstrokes to the corners repeatedly made Nadal hit shots late and wide.

The speedy Davydenko also came forward to win 17 points at the net.

"I can't play better today, because he played at an unbelievable level," Nadal said.

Nadal has yet to win a title this year as the tour switches to clay, his favorite surface. He'll try for his fourth consecutive French Open title beginning next month.

"I think soon I am going to win a title," Nadal said. "I hope so."

Davydenko should be a factor on clay, too, as the race tightens atop the men's rankings.

"Maybe something changes with my tennis here in Miami," he said. "The clay court season's coming now, and for me it should be different tennis. Maybe I feel more confidence, because I beat very good guys here."

Davydenko improved to 12-3 in ATP finals, matching Thomas Muster (44-11) for the best winning percentage in the Open era. He also won $590,000 to Nadal's $295,675.