Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Spanish Civil War aka Rafa v Fernando

I stumbled upon this drama one set in and Fernando had prevailed in a tie breaker eight points to six, leaving Rafa a difficult task.  Of course most memories had landed seven years ago when the two played an epic semi final which Rafa eventually won en route to winning yet another match over Federer, this one for the 2009 Aus Open title.

The second set saw Nadal break early to the relief of his legion of fans, and certainly to Nadal himself.  Verdasco's problems were emanating from a drop in first serve percentage, allowing Nadal to punish a rather weak second entry into court on many occasions.

At 2-4, Fernando faced the danger of falling a double break behind, but salvaged the situation with a clutch serve or two and still held hopes of winning the set.

A double fault from the Nadal racquet left him at 15-30 and a killer return created two break points.  A big serve saved one but another huge return was too much and Fernando had done the deed, squaring the set 4-4.

Consolidating a break is often difficult and Verdasco found himself down 0-30.  Another error gave Nadal break points, the first saved with a withering down the line winner from Fernando.  He could not handle a spectacular return from Rafa however and the 14 time GS winner would proceed to serve for the set.

Rafa won the set 6-4 and the final point was almost worth the cost of a ticket itself with just about every shot in the book played.

Continuing his roll, Nadal savaged the Verdasco delivery enough to force errors and demand a service break and lead 1-0 in the third set.  His own serve was now pretty reliable and leaving few avenues for Verdasco to return with any substance.  A wild return attempt went miles out and 2-0 the result for Rafa.

Three big serves flung Verdasco from a precarious 15-30 to safety and he moved the scoreboard in his direction by one game.  Nadal won the next game, a key point being another net cord, one of so many he'd luckily received in the match.  The sizzling forehand winner on game point was all class and no luck as he extended the lead to 3-1.

No issues on serve for the next two games and 4-2 Nadal.  
Clumsy tennis from Verdasco gave Nadal break point in the seventh game and it was saved via a good serve.  The second break point was gone the same way. Verdasco played the next point brilliantly and converted the game point to trail 3-4.

Easy hold for Nadal and then danger for Verdasco at 0-30.  15-40 after another netted shot.  One set point saved with a down the line shot forcing Nadal into error.  The second set point could not be dealt with similarly and Rafa had the insurance for which he had craved.  Two sets to one 6-7 (6) 6-4 6-3

A couple of careless shots from Nadal and good fighting from Verdasco led to break points, but solid serving brought it to deuce.  A forehand rifled down the line brought up another break point.  The break came and Verdasco had the early lead in set 4.

Two big serves from deuce consolidated the Verdasco break and he led 2-0.

Services were held until the sixth game with Rafa still trailing 2-3 and a break.  Verdasco wasn't holding back and he hit a brilliant winner to be 40-15 but over hit to allow Nadal back and it became deuce thanks to a thunderous return from Rafa.  Still Fernando served it out and led 4-2.  Another five setter between these two seemed on the cards.

Rafa held in a struggle and it was 3-4, Verdasco regularly firing bullets to make the Nadal task difficult.  
Continuing to attack on serve, Fernando held serve and was only a game away from taking it to a fifth set.

A rampaging Verdasco brought up set point with an outstanding return but Rafa responded with big serves to throw the responsibility of winning the set back to Fernando's next service game.

Suddenly Verdasco crumbled, his backhand failing, and Nadal pounced to break and level at 5-5.

Rafa rolled through his service game and led 6-5 before Fernando was at 0-30 and close to losing the match.  He rallied to win the next four points and we had a tie break for the second time.

Verdasco overcame his disappointment at not winning the set when he should have and controlled the tie break and eventually the set was his 7-6.

Nadal jumped quickly to a break advantage in the decider but at 1-2 Verdasco pulled out a backhand return winner and some other return magic to break back.  More Fernando brilliance was to come on his serve with the forehand dazzling and an ace to seal the game.  He now led 3-2 and Nadal was vulnerable for the first time in a long while.

More vulnerable thanks to an irresistible return game from Verdasco highlighted by a forehand impossible to contain.  Nadal was broken and that break was followed by a service game including aces and further groundstrokes beyond anything with which Rafa could adequately respond.

2-5 and serving to remain in the Aus Open Rafa and it wasn't to be.  For the first time the great player exited in the first round.  All credit has to go to Fernando Verdasco whose level of play at the end of the match was at the highest of any point of the terrific match.  He won the last 6 games.

Final score 7-6 4-6 3-6 7-6 6-2 

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