Astonishingly, Nadal won just one point more than Verdasco in the spine-tingling match – 193 to 192 – and in the end, that single point was the double fault Verdasco served on match point.
At his post-match news conference, Nadal said he had back cramps and acknowledged that Federer would likely be fresher physically, but he declined to complain or lobby for a change in Australian Open scheduling policies.
This is especially true of a player as expressive and natural as Rafael Nadal. He has been involved in dozens of classic contests, dozens of knock-down, drag-out fights that have used up every ounce of emotion—his, his opponent’s, and that of anyone watching.
And then there’s Verdasco, who won because of the near certainty that this experience-not only of the semifinal instant classic, but also the experience of the whole fortnight-will lead to future greatness. Yes, he double-faulted twice in the last game-including on Nadal’s third match point-but for five hours and 13 minutes, the once-mentally fragile Spaniard showcased nerves of which even Federer and Nadal would be proud.
For five hours and 14 minutes–an Australian Open record–Nadal and Verdasco not only played the best match of this tournament, they preached–loudly, boldly and repeatedly–the virtues of the modern baseline game. No ball is safe, no matter where it lands.
Both of them are sons of restaurant owners, and both are left-handers who are extremely comfortable at the baseline and are capable of playing every shot, even the occasional volley, two of which Verdasco slammed when he saved the first two match points Nadal had earned on Verdasco’s serve in the fifth set.
At some points in time, Rafa did seem the less comfortable of the two, having to cope with the firepower of his opponent, whose flatter ground strokes suited the hard court more than his own looping topspin forehands. But everytime Nadal seemed out of the point, he just seemed to claw back.
We’ll be watching Nadal’s awesomely bloggy blog at the Times of London over the weekend — it revealed some goofy gems back in July, which made for an immortal caption on this Daily Fix — and recommend you do so, too. Especially if you care what he eats for dinner.
Any normal player would be certain to feel the after-effects of such a titanic five-setter. Nadal is not normal. Of their 18 meetings Nadal has won 12, including all four last year. In major finals – three on clay, three on grass – Nadal leads 4-2, while Federer holds a 3-2 advantage on hard courts. It has developed into a classic rivalry.
It all started out so innocuously… And then they unleashed the crazy.