In the Zone with Fernando Verdasco
"Always prepare for the worst, hope for the best and as much as possible...try to avoid the unexpected..."
But then one ought to remember that on certain days unexpectedness has a mind of its own and when that mind starts acting and plotting, even a mere avoidance of the circumstance that breeds it becomes next to impossible; the one track determination of the unexpectedness governs everything that day—try as one might to curb it, it has come to succeed and success, it will find at the end of the day!
And an example of such "unexpected-ness" is the case of Fernando Verdasco defeating the raging and the billowing Andy Murray in their Fourth Round encounter of the 2009 Oz Open making him a perfect recipe for the topic of being In the Zone.
For a player who has been playing tennis since the age of four, Fernando Verdasco wasn't someone [at least prior to this match] whose name came to mind while talking about the sport - it wasn't as though he was a bad player, his performances were just not adequate for the mind to admit the significance of his existence in the sport.
But, the Spaniard was never always invisible; during the 2008 Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina- he was the man who made it possible for Spain to win the cup, when he juggled, wrestled, and successfully noosed the reverse singles rubber from Jose Acasuso in a pendulumic five-setter.
But such powerful performances, once in a while, were not the only reasons that made him visible to the casual fan. His name wasn't enveloped in obscurity by girls who love to take in the looks of the player along with his ability to notch up victories on the playing surface against threatening and rampaging rivals.
But these were just by-the-by sort of affiliations for the Spaniard, who though he featured in the top 15, had next to nothing while counting his slam potential; he had absolutely nothing to show that he was capable of pulling it off in the big-stages.
And yet, Verdasco defied every punter and prognosticator on the afternoon of 26th January at Melbourne park, with such force that everyone was made to turn their heads in his direction: "take a look folks, Rafa isn't the only one holding the Armada fleet, he has company this time around."
Taking a look at the statistics before this match, there wouldn't have been any doubt as to who would emerge as the eventual winner; Murray had a 5-1 head-to head against the Madridian and the last time that Verdasco had defeated the Briton was six years ago when Murray was ranked at a lowly 774th.
To add insult to injury, when these two had met at the same venue previously two years ago, Murray had dealt a crushing straight-sets loss to the Spaniard in the third round.
Fast forward two years, and the result promised to be the same, of course with the difference being that Murray was the new hype surrounding the tennis masses. After opening the new season with a loud cannon bang, Andy Murray looked set to cross the threshold of the slam winners-he was running amok with a level of performance octane that only satisfying victories and confidence can bring.
Murray was prepared "for the worst", his hopes were pinned only "on the best" but he had not counted the "unexpected" element to his predicted victory podium and which disrupted his entire plans Down Under: Fernando Verdasco.
Verdasco was a man set in his mission- after suffering defeat upon defeat at the hands of the Briton, he had nothing but his pride to lose, which after taking beatings upon beatings had developed an "I am possible" attitude of its own like the mind of the "unexpected"; Murray was not only facing a physical form of Verdasco, but also a fortified and imposing caricature of the same person.
The match began in earnest and so began the assault by Verdasco's ripping forehands and powerful backhands on Murray; some of them were bang on target- Murray was unable to do anything but stare at their speed and intensity, while some spewed out of control giving Murray the chance to grab points as and when they were given generously.
Verdasco's shots and passes whenever they spiralled out of control, appeared as though he was losing control over himself, as though he fought a raging and building volcano from within himself; the situation was like he had drawn the battle line and was trying hard not to jump off from the cavalry and do a foolhardy concept of the infantry.
Yet, his warring self control paid the price as Murray captured the first set and thus was all set to show Verdasco all over again, who was the better player.
Intensity was met with intensity in the second set as Verdasco refused to cower down before the World No. 4; his forehand which only rippled in the first set became a full blown arsenal in itself, as he ran hither and thither on the court to cut Andy Murray no slack; pining and mostly out of breath, thanks to the running exercises choreographed by Verdasco for him, Murray was left gaping as to how in the world did Verdasco manage to pull a one over him!
The third set was retaliation and counter-retaliation; the shots flew back and forth, each man was determined to edge past his rival, Verdasco had the stamina while Murray possessed the mental coolness, enough to jeopardise Verdasco's new found resilience.
In these three sets, however, there appears to be equal hits and misses by both the players-each one tried to be in his elements, the long and hard rallies that each fended off did not show or bring out the stronger mettle of either of the two players-neither of them won nor did they concede- it was just bordering on being a "run-of-the-mill" contest at some point of time.
But the fourth and the fifth set, are the ones, where Verdasco brought out as to why he deserved to win the match more than Andy Murray did; if in the previous three sets he had played great shots, in these two sets he played scintillating shots, shots which made the palms of the one's hands sore and their throats hoarse, from all the claps and the vociferous applauses dished out to him.
The self control which had caught him without any guard, took pole position as he made Murray run pillar-to-post or as much as the court could offer him; the open and raised palm salute of "Vamos" started making more and more appearances as Verdasco breached the Murray armoury.
Rallies, aces and trickshots-whatever one could conjure about a class tennis player, Verdasco gave them all and even more; baseline rallies turned to net approaches as Verdasco found his rhyme and rhythm on the plexicushion, making Murray work and slog as he fought to redeem every last bit of his battered and bruised ego, before finally succumbing to the fierce and spirited Verdasco onslaught.
Verdasco was the man of the moment that day, he had done what a Federer and a Rafa didn't do-upstage the meteroic Andy Murray and that too at a place where the odds were firmly placed on his name to emerge as the ultimate winner on the second Sunday.
And by the time the enormity of the situation had sunk in, Verdasco had moved over to dismantle Jo-Wilfred Tsonga albeit a touch more easily and was ready to face Rafa in the battle of the Spaniards for a place in the finals...
And, while his "unexpected-ness run" was halted by Rafa in that epic of a match, Verdasco had already achieved whatever he couldn't in these past years in just a matter of hours; he had proved his temerity as a player, making sure that no one could and would ever take him lightly henceforth.
For the previous Zone feature, here's Antimatter's take on Robin Soderling.
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