Sweet Revenge! Verdasco Stuns Nadal In Five
Seven years on from their epic 2009 Melbourne semi-final
He’s waited seven years, but revenge tasted sweet for Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday night in Melbourne as he stunned Rafael Nadal 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 in four hours and 41 minutes in the first round of the Australian Open.
On the very same court, Rod Laver Arena, in 2009, Verdasco had been on the losing end of a five-hour, 14-minute marathon against Nadal in the semi-finals that lingered into the Melbourne night — the longest match in Australian Open history at that time.
It looked as though Nadal would once again edge his countryman in the decider as he assumed a 2-0 lead in the fifth. But Verdasco reeled off the last six games to claim a memorable victory.
“I was just closing my eyes and everything went in!” Verdasco told Jim Courier an on-court interview for the host broadcaster. “In the fourth set I started serving better than the second and third. He started playing less deep and strong. I started coming inside the court, being aggressive and it went well.
“Winning against Rafa in five sets here, coming from two sets to one down, is an unbelievable feeling.”
When Verdasco took the more-than-hour-long first set in a tight tie-break, fans figured they might be in for another match for the ages. Nadal, the No. 5 seed, stormed back with service breaks in the third and ninth games of the second set, and added another to open the third in moving ahead two sets to one.
Verdasco would break Nadal to kick off the fourth set and even had a chance to serve out the set 5-4. But Nadal would battle back to force a tie-break. However, Verdasco found the range on his forehand again and bullied Nadal into submission as he took the match into a decider.
"Of course, I have thought many days, many times about that semi-final," said Verdasco. "It was my longest match ever. It was my first time in a Grand Slam semi-final. I didn't really think I would have another five-set match against Rafa here in Australia.
"Of course at the beginning of the fifth I was for a second thinking about that semi-final. I was like, 'Please, I don't want to lose with a double-fault at 5-4, 30-40.' He started by breaking my serve. After that, I started playing really good, hitting very hard serves, forehands, and not making many mistakes. I'm very happy with the way that I finished the match.
"It's a big difference. That was the semi-finals; now it's the first round. It's just the beginning of the tournament. Hopefully I will keep it up playing like today and hopefully do a good tournament."
It is the first time in 11 visits that Nadal has suffered a first-round exit at Melbourne Park. The 29 year old has a 45-10 tournament record, lifting the trophy in 2009 (d. Federer) and finishing runner-up in 2012 (l. to Djokovic) and 2014 (l. to Wawrinka). It also marked only Nadal's second defeat in the first round of a Grand Slam, with the other loss coming against Steve Darcis at Wimbledon in 2013.
"He had a lot of success hitting every ball at full power in the fifth," said Nadal. "I have to congratulate him.
"But I am not happy about the way that I played the first set. In the fourth I was not very bad, but he played better than me, too. I had my chances in the fourth, too. He played better than me. He played more aggressive than me. He took more risks than me, and he won. Probably he deserved it."
Verdasco goes on to face Dudi Sela in the second round.