Rafael Nadal’s bid for a Miami Open trophy was halted by compatriot Fernando Verdasco today. The former world number seven stunned the second seed 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to claim a slot in the fourth round.
Ironically, Verdasco’s ultimate victory over a top three opponents was over Nadal at the Madrid Masters in 2012. In fact, it represented his first win over his countryman in fourteen attempts. A two time quarterfinalist in Miami, currently ranked 34th, Verdasco entered this event with a 8-6 record.
After letting his chance evaporate at 5-3 to seal the initial set, Verdasco broke Nadal for the second straight game to get the job done.
In the second set, Nadal broke and consolidated for a 4-2 edge. With a second break to carry the set, momentum seemed to have shifted to Nadal’s corner.
Considering the past, it would have been expected normal for doubts to creep into Verdasco’s psyche. Instead, the 2009 Australian Open semifinalist stayed hopeful in the deciding set. After dismissing a couple of break points, with a spectacular inside out crosscourt forehand winner, Verdasco converted on his break point opportunity then pushed his lead to 4-1.
After he failed on his maiden match point in the eighth game, it appears that Verdasco could crumble. Instead, it was the mental stalwart Nadal who misfired on a return at match point number to push his compatriot into the next round.
Nadal summed up what went wrong “I played some good games at the beginning; some good games on the second; not bad at the beginning of the third. But he played well the third, so he deserved to win more than me.”
According to Nadal, his issues go beyond just this match “It’s not the question of tennis. [it's a] question of being relaxed enough to play well on court. My game in general improved from a month and a half. But at the same time, [I'm] still playing with too much nerves in important moments. Something that didn’t happen a lot during my career. I have been able to control my emotions during, 90%, 95% of my matches of my career, something that today is tougher. But I gonna fix it. I don’t know if in one week, in six months, or in one year, but I gonna do it.”
The world number three is adamant that his “nerve” difficulty is not the result of last year’s medical challenges “the physical problems are past. [I'm] feeling much more comfortable in my tennis, practicing well. But still playing on competition feeling more tired than usual, feeling that I don’t have self-confidence that when I hit the ball, I’m gonna hit the ball where I want to hit the ball. All these are small things that are difficult to explain.”
Hard to picture Nadal as a player struggling with nerves and self-control. Yet, he emphasizes although he has experienced it before but “very small for one point, two points. I’m able to say. Okay, I am here. But now, 3 all break point, more or less easy forehand. That was a very important point for me, but shouldn’t be. I lost that point and then affects the next game. I had the break back, 30-love, I miss a forehand, that created doubts again. I have been able to change a lot of negative situations in my career, I am confident that I can do it. I don’t know if I gonna do it, but I hope I can.”
Nadal is not a believer in couch therapy “tennis is not a big deal. Outside of the tennis world when you have some problems in your life, it is good help that you visit a professional who can improve your quality of life. [Tennis] is sport, is game. It is something I need to fix for myself and with my team. Hopefully, the clay helps.”
For his part, Verdasco never doubted even when forced to a decisive set “I was trying to think about how I played the first set and tried to get back that feeling. I tried to keep calm and be aggressive. At same time, cannot be very aggressive, very windy and many times you need to adjust.”
Undisputedly, a colossal win “beating a player like Rafa is the same like you beat [Andy] Murray or [Roger] Federer. It’s always a nice to feel a huge victory in a packed stadium in a very important tournament. Today was a good day. Now I need to try to rest and be ready for the next one.”
With reference to sensing a ‘less confident’, Verdasco replied “we played each other many times and everything happened. Since last time I beat him in Madrid, it was 13 times in a row for him. Some very easy some of them for me having match points. Every match is different. Today I adapted better than him. Normally, he is one of the best with this kind of wind. I’m not inside of him, so he is the one who needs to say about his feelings, not me. What I saw is that he was missing more than normal.”