Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal. They share an unerring similarity while on the tennis court.
Right from the time when they enter the stadium with the heavy tennis kit mounted on their left shoulders, to the time they gently jump around the court like dance coordinates, to the duration they trade those heavy left-handed topspins during the match; it is difficult to distinguish between these players from their physical appearance (errr.. well, Verdasco does not align his bottles, and doesn’t pick the backside, but that may be all!)
It could also be true that the older Spaniard is possibly the best player, technically, to beat Rafael Nadal on clay.
Fernando might be one of the very few players who hits the ball harder than his Mallorcan counterpart, and being a southpaw gives him a big starting advantage against Nadal, not enjoyed by many top players, including those three right below Nadal.
Verdasco can not only handle Rafael’s heavy spin from his cross court forehand effectively, but can also return the favor with his own cross court forehand. He can hit the forehand with an extreme angle (dare I say, he can create an even more acute angle than the BULL himself!) and thus, he not only catches Rafa off guard by attacking to his forehand, but also pushes him deep to his left and opens up the court.
Moreover, he is possibly the only player, apart from Rafa, who can hit the banana-swing down the line forehand to mesmerize a good net approach.
He also possesses a very good serve (especially the one wide to Rafa’s forehand from the ad court) to effectively set up the forehand, and only a fool would ignore his sheer athleticism which is second only to the world No. 1.
Verdasco’s ability has always made me wonder why he holds a pitiful 0-8 record against Rafa (now 0-9), especially after watching them battle through that epic semifinal in Melbourne.
Yesterday’s contest, however, offered a perspective.
Part of this lopsided record may attribute to the technical deficiencies in Verdasco’s game. He never approaches the net of an aggressive forehand, and does not have an effective slice backhand (which also proves how Rafa has progressed to become a multi -dimensional player).
He also goes for the winners two shots too early. But a bulk of the blame would rest on the fact that Verdasco just doesn’t know HOW to win against Rafa (similar to A-Rod’s dilemma against Federer).
While Rafael’s composure would stay pretty much the same (his pre-serve routine, aggression, an occasional fist pump here and there to beef himself up and the no-nonsense approach towards the game), Verdasco’s demeanor changes from time to time.
Early in the first set, he showed steely resolve to wipe out a 0-40 deficit with accurate serving (and eventually winning five consecutive points) but it came as no surprise when the same person potted an easy smash on the net at two set points down on serve to hand over an otherwise brilliant set to Nadal.
Similarly, the body language of both players is a proof of the difference in level between the two players at ATP.
A look at the body language of both players when the score line was 4-0 (in favor of Verdasco, by the way) in the second set would be nothing but deceptive.
On the one hand, Rafael still stood there like a wall, with the confidence that a world No. 1 oozes, Verdasco seemed unsure of himself pumping out extra doses of adrenalin than required, and committing many more unforced errors than he would do at a score-line of 3-3.
It came as no wonder, when Verdasco threw away his service game at 4-1 with two double faults and two more silly unforced errors.
Once Rafael got one break back, it almost seemed inevitable that he would end win 6-4 7-5, even though he was still trailing by a break! Deservedly, Rafael won seven of the last eight games of the match, mostly marked by unforced errors of Verdasco, rather than immaculate play by Nadal, and sealed a place in the semis.
Verdasco took a course on Art of Winning Matches by, arguably, the best teacher on the subject. Whether he applies the principles learned in yesterday's course during the examination in the following two weeks remains to be seen.