Fernando Verdasco has always had game. This much we know, particularly after he came agonisingly close to beating Nadal at the Australian open in 2009. Perhaps a little too agonising, since he hasn’t done anything quite so spectacular since.
13 times Fiasco has played against Rafa and at best, we hope for a slight challenge before he inevitably folds like a paper crane. At worst, Rafa’s air of authority when playing against his fellow Spaniards simply turns Fiasco into a muted, unthinking minion (granted, thinking has never been one of Fiasco’s strengths).
So yesterday, when Fernando Verdasco calmly served out the first set against Rafa with an ace, I was mildly impressed, but still fully expectant of a loss: Win the first set, throw momentum into the wind in the second, and fizzle out with a whimper in the third. Isn’t that how the script goes?
And indeed, the match largely followed script for a while. Rafa settled into the second set well and began to exert greater aggression against his opponent. Fiasco on the other hand became more and more unsettled, at one stage serving up a hattrick of double faults that would’ve put the Dementievas of the WTA Tour to shame.
In the third set, FeVer turn downright cold, going down a double break as spectators waited for Nadal to put everyone out of their misery. Yet what followed was not the normal script of a Rafa v Spaniard routine, but the script of some horrible arthouse flick with a twisted ending that no one quite understands.
Nadal spent the next 30 minutes conceding game after game, playing the muted, error-prone, unthinking game that we more often associate with Fiasco. Fiasco, on the other hand, emboldened by Nadal’s loss of concentration, gradually freed up mentally and began to dictate momentum, until the unthinkable was upon us and Fernando Verdasco is on the ground, kissing the blue clay, eyes moist with 13 matches’ worth of catharsis, knowing full well now that no body, no body can beat him 14 times in a row.
Post match, Rafa placed some of the blame on smurf clay, as he served the tournament organisers an ultimatum:
The ATP and the tournament can do what they want, I tried my best, I’ve trained since Thursday. I was as prepared as I could be. I was not good enough to adapt my game to this court. If things continue like this, it will be very sad. Next year this will be one less event for my calendar.
Tio Toni was equally outraged. In an interview with Spanish radio (Reuters):
The fact that the ATP gave permission for this tournament is an outrage.
One of the highlights of Rafa’s year is playing in Madrid and what has happened is that this event puts the Spanish players, who are more (traditional) clay players, at a disadvantage.
So you say ‘I want to play in Madrid but not at the cost of my health nor at the cost of losing my feeling on the court’.
Uncle Toni further revealed that he had told Rafa not to participate in this tournament this year:
If he had listened to me he wouldn’t have played this year.
How much power must this guy [Tiriac] have if they let him change the customs and habits of the players. But the main culprit is the ATP. He can do what he wants at his own tournament, but the ATP should not have given him permission and I expect them to withhold it next year.
With Smurf Clay approved only as a one year experiment, news today that Tiriac is finishing up with Madrid this year seems to be a step down for the ATP to backtrack to red clay. But I am with Wertheim on this one: the hysterical reactions and threats from the ATP Top 2 over something as simple as a new surface at one tournament does not bode well generally for future (and much needed) changes to tennis.
Perhaps the biggest irony of it all is that Madrid so far has produced fewer injuries than any of the other Masters tournaments this year, with Andreev (2nd round retirement) and Tsonga (back injury) being the only casualties to mar its record. Whether the lack of injuries is due to the qualities of Smurf Clay itself, or perhaps players have simply become more guarded and conservative because they do not trust the surface is open to debate.
But surface tensions aside, what has gotten lost in all this ATP politics in the past 24 hours has been the true victor of the day – Fernando Verdasco. The man who finally vanquished a demon and did something he should’ve done a long time ago: beat Nadal.
And in his own words, it was “the maximum” for him. And regardless of your opinion of Fernando Verdasco, how could you not be happy for him after that.