Anguish: Nikolay Davydenko feels the pressure in his match against Richard Gasquet.

Anguish: Nikolay Davydenko feels the pressure in his match against Richard Gasquet. Photo: Reuters

Not so long ago, Nikolay Davydenko got the red carpet treatment of the tennis elite. He received centre court billing even for practice sessions, and delivered his straightforward post-match thoughts in a theatrette full of cameras and media.

He would beat the best, because he was one of them (the Russian has a 6-5 record against Rafael Nadal). He was No.3 in the world, the first man from his country to have five straight seasons (2005-09) in the top 10.

Now, Davydenko is 32, and plays his tennis out in the boondocks. He finished 2013 ranked outside the top 50 for the first time in 11 years, and came to Melbourne as the world No.61. He was never the rock star of his peers, but has truly become the man you could pass in the street and not look at twice.

You'd imagine this might frustrate him, hasten his retreat from the grind and into the arms of wife Irina and their daughter Ekaterina. The prospect of celebrating her second birthday in April at home in Moscow, rather than missing it because he's working in Monte Carlo, must tug at him like a hook on a line. Davydenko sees the attraction, admits he is even looking forward to the end. But he's not ready to walk away just yet.

''If I play main draw ATP tournaments and grand slam, I will play - I'm not thinking about retiring,'' he said. ''But if my ranking drop under top 100, if I'm not in ATP tournament, I will not play. I won't go back to challengers, I don't want to play those tournaments.''

On Wednesday he lost in straight sets to Richard Gasquet, the ninth seed who occupies a realm Davydenko knows he will never enjoy again. His assessment of the Frenchman, offered to an audience of two around a small table in a busy room, was characteristically forthright.

''Gasquet play a level not so amazing, he play last year the same. I don't see like real improvement, he don't surprise me.''

Gasquet could well respond that he was saving his best for greater challenges, but he can take heart that Davydenko's self-appraisal is equally blunt. ''I play not so good, I don't practising a lot, I'm injured sometimes, and still I finish 50. It's surprising me,'' he said of a decline that began four years ago with a serious wrist injury.

Returning from that injury, he realised that pushing so hard with the body can imperil the mind. ''Mentally I try to go harder, that's when I start to say, 'No, no, no'. Because I can maybe be broken mentally. Then I will stop completely.''

A new year brought renewed questions about his goals; he scoffs at the idea that he would even have any. Effectively, his tennis has become a day-to-day proposition.

''I would like to enjoy still slowly and we'll see what's happening. Stop will be like this - for me I will not say in the press, 'Next day I will stop.' I will stop if I'm not in the main draw tournaments, will be slow. If I'm not getting in, then I will stop. OK, it was not top 10, but 50, 60, I am still on tour. We'll see, maybe I can find some solution … maybe I can do some good results and still be in top 30, top 20.''

And if not? ''I still enjoy my life.''