David Nalbandian withdrew from the U.S. Open last Friday. Uh-huh! Not much has been heard about the mercurial Argentine since he was bounced out in the first round at Estoril in late April. Nalbandian underwent hip surgery in mid May, after stubbornly dealing with recurring hip pain and mixed results on the tennis court since early last year. Nalbandian’s rehab has been going well in Argentina. D-Nal started 2009 strong, winning at Sydney, his 10th career title, and then suffered an inexplicable loss to unheralded Yen-Hsun Lu in the second round at the Australian Open. A first round loss, at Acapulco, was followed by a brilliant fourth-round match against Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells. Nadal won 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-0, but Nalbandian astonishingly squandered five match points after having the Spaniard on the ropes. Two weeks later at Miami, Viktor Troicki made quick work of the Argentine in the second round. Clearly, something was wrong. Nalbandian’s reticence about his physical state only exacerbated the speculation. One of the most gifted and talented players on the tour, the Argentine has often been criticized for underachievement. “The best player to have never won a major” is a label that has plagued Nalbandian for some time. His fitness and commitment have frequently been questioned. The fact of the matter is that for well over a year the longer Nalbandian’s matches went on the worse the pain in his hip got. Might have had a lot to do with his inabilility to close out some matches he should have won, eh? Three clay-court tournaments after Miami and Nalbandian was done. Therapy and treatment didn’t work. “Before having surgery, I knew that it could go wrong, but I never hesitated,” Nalbandian said. “I will return. I was in a situation where I couldn’t go on, the operation was the only way. But I don’t think negatively, I have great faith. Those were two years with a lot of pain, with tremendous limitations for playing. I won important tournaments on one leg, as they say. I could not walk and I had trouble driving. I will fight to be among the top five again. My idea, if I’m well, is to play until age 30. Tennis players retire more often because of the mental stress than for physical reasons.” Australian Lleyton Hewitt, a former No. 1, had similar hip surgery after the Olympics last summer and returned to the tour in January. Hewitt’s recent success has provided encouragement for Nalbandian. “Nobody can assure you of anything, because it’s a new and delicate injury,” Nalbandian said. “I know that when I return, I will step on the court being afraid until I can get all of that out of my head.” The plan is four to six months, so realistically the beginning of next season. Until then, Nalbandian’s tennis genius continues to be sorely missed.