The second Australian Open Semi-final is between two leftie Spaniards, with the world's number one player, Rafael Nadal, and huge underdog Fernando Verdasco. Nadal strolled through his previous matches, not losing a single set throughout the Open. In his 8th season as a professional player, this is the first major that Verdasco has played where he's beaten two top 10 players, so he's definitely ready for Nadal. Of the 14 prior sets these players have faced off in their 6 prior meetings, 13 of those went to Nadal. I'm not sure who has the most pressure though, because it's almost assumed that Nadal will win, so Verdasco really has nothing to fear. As both players come onto the court, and keep the fans waiting to even begin their warm-ups, they are already trying to fuck with each others psyche.
Most people watching this match would probably start getting bored if they aren't tennis fans because neither of these guys is really quick to start the points. But if you can stomach waiting for them to serve, you are in for a treat. These guys are just smacking the shit at the ball - surprisingly enough, Verdasco is actually hitting harder than Nadal. Verdasco was really putting it to Nadal, and had a prime opportunity to break Nadal's serve early, but blundered with an easy overhead that went long. Verdasco is dictating most of the points, and Nadal's first serve returns are just horrendous even with him standing several feet behind the baseline.
This set was filled with some of the best baseline rallies you'll ever see in your life. Both men were able to hold serves, leading to a tiebreaker at 6-6, but going into it there is a sense that the momentum is on Verdasco's side. Tremendous pressure during the tiebreak for both players, but the first set went to the better player - Verdasco wins the tiebreaker 7-4, and thus wins the set 7-6. That's right...Verdasco won the set...he did get a little luck from the net cord in the tiebreaker, but he kept the pressure on with his aggressive play. This is the first set Nadal lost in this Australian Open, and also matches the number of sets Verdasco has won against Nadal before. An hour and 15 minutes into the match, the men prepare for another battle in the second set.
Much quicker pace to the points in this set right off the bat, and the points that are being played out are still being dominated by Verdasco. In his first three service games, Verdasco did not drop a single point, but on his next service game it went to 4 advantages to Nadal before he held his serve. Nadal's serve looked much better in this set (89% first serves), giving him a lot of cheap points and save some energy. It started looking a lot like the first set with both men staying on serve, but now Verdasco served to stay in the set at 4-5. After a grueling, long point with a stunning forehand on the run from Nadal, it set up the break point and ultimately gave Nadal the set 6-4. Both men have played an extremely high level of tennis at this point, and now they start the third set essentially even - aside from two hours of running around and pummeling every ball.
The second game of this set was a fucking marathon on Verdasco's serve...both players were sucking wind half-way into the game, but Nadal was the fresher of the two, which lead to the break of serve. Right after being broken, Verdasco comes back with a break of Nadal's serve without giving up a single point. And then again...just when you felt the set was easily in Nadal's hands, after he broke serve for a second time, Verdasco breaks back with more quick points and hard-hitting returns. The service games in this set looked the most impressive so far for both players, even with the breaks of serve. This set went to a tiebreaker, where Nadal took complete control; Verdasco had 3 awful unforced errors, and with a 5-2 lead in the breaker, there was virtually no chance Nadal was going to let this set slip away. Nadal gave the breaker an exclamation point with an ace, winning 7-2 and now taken a 2-1 set lead. I don't really see any chance Verdasco coming back from this deficit, but then again, I didn't really expect it to be going to a fourth set.
After another tiring first service game, Verdasco is looking considerably more sluggish in this set. During the 2-1 and 3-2 change overs, the trainer came out and started rubbing Verdasco's legs, and you could see in his body language and movement that he's feeling it. Going into the 6th game of the set, the match was already nearing the 4-hour mark, which feeds into Nadal's game 'cause he's just a freak of nature. It hits midnight in Melbourne when the players go into the 11th game of the fourth, tied at 5 all. Verdasco is playing with so much heart, and at the same time intelligently picking which points to really give it his all on. There were at least two times in this set where it seemed like it was over, and he just kept fighting back... all the time he's doing this against the world's number one player, who is having a great game himself (other than his service return).
Pretty fitting that the fourth set goes to a tiebreaker as well. I can't even believe I'm writing this, but Verdasco completely out-hit and out-played Nadal in the tiebreaker. Verdasco is now easily on his sixth wind, and beat the shit out of the ball in this breaker to win a decisive 7-1, forcing this epic battle into a fifth and final set (7-1 is the worst lose Nadal has faced in a tiebreaker). People will look back at this match in years to come - this is where Fernando Verdasco makes his mark on the tennis world. Two amazing leftie Spaniards are putting on such a show even with the match approaching the four and a half hour mark. When's the last time you did ANYTHING physically draining for four and a half hours? Just think about that...
It's now 5:20 a.m. Friday morning in Los Angeles and 12:20 a.m. in Melbourne; ESPN decided to broadcast this final set commercial-free. The players keep pushing on, making it look like this is the opening set. At 4 hours and 41 minutes into this match, Verdasco had his biggest serve of the match, clocking in at 138 mph. Nadal breezes through with his service games, while Verdasco continues to struggle to hold, fighting off 5 break points in his first four service games. Verdasco is definitely running on fumes, by the 7th game of the set, which shows with his shaky first serves, and as he resigns to a slice backhand rather than his powerful two-hander.
At 5 hours and 10 minutes into the match, Verdasco steps on the court to serve at 4-5. The first point was the longest rally of the match, as Verdasco hits an extremely tired backhand slice into the net on the 29th stroke of the point. It looked like Verdasco was down and out after this point - he loses the next two points and faces a triple break point, which would give Nadal the match. After fighting off two of those match points, Verdasco goes out of the tournament on a double fault.
Conclusion to this Epic
The match went 5 hours and 14 minutes, which is the longest match ever played at the Australian Open, and is also longer than the longest match ever played at Wimbledon. This was easily the best tennis match I've ever seen in my life. It was even better than the match in the 1996 US Open, where Pete Sampras played an epic Quarter-final match against Alex Corretja (this went four hours, and Sampras threw up during the match). Fernando Verdasco should feel proud of his play, even though losing after giving it 150%, he should still hold his head up high. He took the world's number one player to the absolute limit, leading to a wonderful competition. As I expected, after the final point, Nadal climbed over the net to hug his countryman after producing such a fantastic match.
Really not sure how Nadal is going to fair in two days having to go against Roger Federer in the final. This is Nadal's first final at the Australian Open, and he leads the head-to-head game play 12-6 against Federer, but I don't know how much energy he'll have for that match.