Rafael & Fernando – Ole’

Australian Open 2009
By Hiland Doolittle, January 30th, 2009

Rafael Nadal Defeats Fernando Verdasco to reach into the Semifinals of Australian Open 2009 Tennis TournamentIn one the greatest matches ever played on any venue, Rafael Nadal took everything his Spanish compatriot could throw at him and held off the hard-charging Fernando Verdasco in a semi-final matchup for the ages. This match will long be remembered for the extremely high quality of play and for the stream of remarkable retrieves, ground strokes and unparalleled athleticism that fans rarely get to enjoy.

The longest match in Australian Open history had something for everyone. The shot-making was so phenomenal that even the players seemed in begrudging awe of each other. Even as compatriots, it became clear that there was no love lost between these two superstars.

As the number one seed, fans are used to such performances from the highly competitive Nadal. What the fans got from Fernando Verdasco could not have been predicted. With a sketchy record in previous big matches, Verdasco actually carried the play in this semifinal. He refused to surrender in big moments. Every time Nadal seemed to grab the momentum, Fernando made a miraculous play or stunned Nadal with a sharp, un-returnable service.

With wins over fourth seeded Murray and fifth seeded Tsonga, no player had a more challenging draw than the fourteenth seeded Verdasco. This Australian Open was his chance to shine. Instead of wilting, as in the past, he seized the moment and impressively dismantled the favorites one at a time. Spectators will be amazed if 2009 is not a breakout year for the handsome Spaniard. Many experts were impressed by Verdasco’s off-season training. His new dedication and training have definitely elevated the left-hander to new found heights.

In the end, it was Nadal’s defensive abilities that turned the match. Displaying Tiger Woodsian determination, the 22 year old refused to lose. Verdasco provided every opportunity for a meltdown, but there was no chink in the armor this day.

After losing the first set 6-7, Nadal broke late in the second set to win 6-4, then cruised through a third set tiebreaker to win 7-6. Critiques awaited a famed Verdasco fade. Instead, Fernando raised his play. There were no service breaks in the fourth set. In the tiebreaker, Verdasco got out of the gate fast and cruised to a 6-0 lead. After losing one point, he served a winner and took the set 7-6.

The fifth set was filled with high stakes drama. There were very few miscues although Nadal began to carry more of the play. Rafael employed higher spin to negate Verdasco’s 100 mph forehand. Nadal seemed to get to every ball. While not as artistic as a Federer win, it was a gutsy win.

At 5-6 and Verdasco needing to hold serve in the memorable fifth set, Nadal blistered two returns and Verdasco committed an unforced error to go down 0-40. Verdasco hunkered down to win two points with crushing volleys. Serving at 30-40 and to preserve the match, Verdasco double faulted. The match ended so abruptly that the stunned audience fell silent to contemplate what they had just witnessed.

While Nadal hit 52 outright winners, his opponent hit 95 outright winning shots. This is the highest number of outright winners ever surrendered by the world’s top ranked player. At the conclusion of the match, the two players embraced briefly in an Apollo Creed - Rocky Balboa moment. The two Spaniards had definitely seen enough of each other by the end of this spectacular match.

Nadal will now have to lick his wounds and prepare for another evening match against the lurking number two seed, Roger Federer. While that paring is highly anticipated, it could not produce better tennis than was played in this semi-final. Congratulations to both players. Thank you!


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