By Maud Watson
For the first time in 14 attempts, Fernando Verdasco defeated his compatriot Rafael Nadal, handing Nadal one of his earliest defeats in a clay court tournament. Some credit has to be given to Verdasco. He played some good ball, especially in the opening set, and unlike in their previous encounters, he didn’t throw in the towel when it appeared nearly all hope was lost. But this match was mostly about Nadal, and this was one of his ugliest losses. The fact that Nadal appeared out of sorts and off his game wasn’t surprising. He was one of the most vocal critics of the change to blue clay, even before the tournament got underway, so the fact that he at times appeared unsure should not have come as a shock. He should be more self-assured next week in Rome when the familiar red dirt is under the soles of his shoes. But the fact that he blew a double break lead in the third – against a guy that he owned – is troubling, no matter what the surface. With the exception of Monte Carlo and Barcelona, he’s developed a habit of struggling to close out matches in recent memory, and this time he paid for it. As superstitious as he is, a loss like this is apt to creep into his mind down the road. The way Nadal handled himself after the match also left something be desired. It’s understandable if he wants to boycott the event next year, and he’s not the only one to suggest he’d do so, with Djokovic also hinting at such an action (though it would be nice if both guys would give organizers a chance to fix the slippery court problem). But Nadal’s arguments for boycotting lacked tact and came off as sour grapes. He’ll need a good run in Rome to feel confident for Paris, or else what he did in Monte Carlo and Barcelona will be for naught.
We’re more than well under way in Madrid, but the talk about the blue courts has hardly decreased. Players’ and fan’s reactions continue to be all over the map, with some liking it, some indifferent, and others making it well known that it doesn’t have their seal of approval. Personally, I’m loving the blue. From a spectator’s point of view, the ball is easier to see, and the blue clay hasn’t denied fans the opportunity to watch some highly competitive battles. The only general complaint – a complaint that Tiriac thankfully recognized as legit – is that the courts are too slippery. How much of this problem stems from the dye used, the structure under the clay, and the courts not yet fully settled remains to be seen, but it is a problem that organizers and tournament officials, including former No. 1 Carlos Moya, claim can be fixed and arguably should not impact Madrid being contested on blue clay in 2013. Besides, we saw some pretty nasty injuries on Monte Carlo’s main show court, proving that no clay court is perfect. In short, Madrid’s choice to go blue is not a failed experiment, and organizers should be given the opportunity to correct issues before any final court color decisions are made for the future.
Lost in all the chatter about the blue clay was the fact that Aga Radwanska has quietly moved up a spot in the rankings to the number three player in the world. And don’t be deceived by the apparently large gap between the Pole and the two rivals ahead of her. Radwanska has little to defend and much to gain in the coming weeks, which cannot be said for Azarenka or Sharapova. If she continues her run of fine form, she’ll be knocking at the door for number two, and perhaps even number one. There’s still work to be done for Aga, but in many ways, her potential continued ascendency up the rankings could be great for the women’s game. Sharapova has done well to fight back to form and up the rankings, and the improvements Azarenka has made to become a Grand Slam champion and reach No. 1 are both remarkable achievements. But it would be refreshing to have a crafty player at the top – and as an added bonus, one who’s quiet!
When last Tsonga was making tennis headlines, it was due to his comments of what he perceived to be biased officiating in his three-set loss to Nadal in the Miami quarterfinals. Many jumped on him for that, but he’s quickly turned around any damage to his reputation with the sportsmanship he exhibited in his straight-set win over Ryan Harrison this week in Madrid. In the second set tiebreak, Tsonga chased after a drop shot that the chair umpire thought he had reached in once bounce in order to the win the point. But Tsonga knew the ball had bounced twice, and despite the fact that it might have eventually led to losing the tiebreak and a third set, he admitted to the double bounce and gave the point to Harrison. Such an act, especially in a tiebreak, is a rarity, and it’s great to see this kind of sportsmanship.
Ms. King Goes to Washington
Billie Jean King continues to be a crusader, this time going to the marble halls of Washington DC in order to ask the government to assist the USTA in its efforts to reach more communities. The USTA has done good work, refurbishing over 25,000 courts in public parks and schools over the last seven years, and anything that will help grow the sport should be encouraged. How much help the government may prove to be is a complete unknown, however. After all, as the old joke goes, “If ‘pro’ is the opposite of ‘con,’ then isn’t the opposite of progress Congress?”
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
MADRID, Spain - Today was the day when Fernando Verdasco finally defeated compatriot Rafael Nadal after fourteen attempts in front of a packed and shocked Manolo Santana court. Nadal had two opportunities to serve out the match but failed to do so on two occasions allowing his opponent back into the match. Fernando Verdasco dropped to the floor in tears and lay there in shock as his 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Rafael Nadal finally sunk in.
World No.2 Rafael Nadal did not settle well into his match from the onset. He lost his opening service game and appeared tentative on the court. It was the world No.19 who took the initiative and rallied his way through the first 6-3.
The second set offered much of the same except it was Nadal who had begun to settle into the match and find his groove to level the match up at 6-3.
The third set saw the rise and the fall of Rafael Nadal’s game. Both players exchanged service breaks and at 5-2 up the crowd thought it was curtains for Verdasco – but he had other things on his mind. Nadal began to mistime his shots and was occasionally hitting off the frame and that was when his nerves began to kick in. Verdasco struck some phenomenal shots and began to unleash his forehand which saw him level the match up and had the 6-5 advantage. Nadal continued to hit some untimely unforced errors and on his second match point, Verdasco dropped to his knees where he remained for several seconds lost in the moment of what he had just achieved.
Rafael Nadal was quick to attend the press conference after the match and naturally he was not happy with the result from the match:
“I lost today because I deserve to lose. I was at 5-2, I arrived at the moment to close the match and I didn’t know how to close it, I didn’t know how to do it. I made a big mistake with my match at 5-2. That’s what happened. He played better than me.”
When he was asked why he lost and whether it was due to the surface and his movement, Nadal looked confused and bluntly replied:
“Did you watch? Did you watch any of the matches? If you’re watching any of the matches… the answer is… “
It was clear that he was not sure how to answer the question and was then asked if he regrets playing on the surface:
“It’s the ATP and the tournament they can do what they want. I arrived here Thursday to prepare as best as I can for the tournament. I was not good enough to play and adapt my game to this court. If things continue like this I will be very sad and next year it will be one less tournament on my calendar.”
Later Nadal was questioned about his intentions for next year as to whether he was insinuating that he would not play:
“I’m not prepared to risk being here with injury. There are two options: They change it or… I’d like to play here but….”
The Roland Garros champion explained how he was worried that the result today would affect his preparation for Rome as he would go into the next tournament unprepared and without many matches.
The concern for the tournament and the organisers is how many more players will follow suit and not compete here? Nadal shrugged his shoulders and was unsure too:
“I don’t know, you can ask them. I think the tournament is great but that’s a bad decision. But they can do what everybody wants. Today is not the day to talk about that, today is the day to talk about Fernando – he played better than me and that’s why I lost, not because of the court. The court is the same for both and that is the real thing.”
Nadal made it clear that the blue clay court is not something that he and the other players should have to adapt to before a Grand Slam tournament and it is not just a question of getting use to it in time:
“You have to know that if you put Cincinnati on grass, what do you think is going to happen? You think people are going to be happy before the US Open? I don’t think so, it is a similar situation.”
The questions continued to be fired at Nadal about his loss and he continued to say that it was not just due to the surface that he lost but wanted to give credit to Verdasco:
“I haven’t been as good at adapting to the circumstances. I cannot get good control with the legs. Fernando played better than me and we both played on the same court. I can give him my congratulations and wishes for the rest of the tournament. I’m happy for him and sad for me. I have to accept it and I wasn’t at the level I should be. The surface is the same for all and it’s equal.”
Nadal closed up by addressing his mistakes and reflecting on the turnout of the match:
“Well, the one who wins is the one who commits less errors. The one who wins is the one who deserves it the most.”
Shortly after Rafael Nadal’s loss, Roger Federer was on court and made short work of Richard Gasquet with a 6-3, 6-2 win. The world No.3 spoke about Nadal’s loss and admitted he was also shocked by the result:
“It was surprising obviously. Verdasco’s a great player, a quality player. We’ve seen him for years that maybe he should have beaten Rafa in the past but this came as a surprise being 5-2 down in the third, you don’t expect the guy to come back from that, especially on clay.”
“I didn’t see much of the match but I’m sure Verdasco played some good tennis to come back into the match that’s what you have got to do against Rafa, so it’s a bit of a surprise and the tournament goes on, unfortunately without Rafa, but maybe it gives a bigger opportunity for players around in the draw.”
Federer made it clear that he is not angry about the surface but “understands Rafa’s disappointment as he was against it from the start – and so was I. For him to go out in the third round is obviously disappointing, he never felt comfortable on the surface – it is a tough surface. It’s a tough loss and there is frustration obviously.”
Fernando Verdasco’s on court duties did not end after the singles match as shortly after he was on court seven in his doubles match with David Marrero – but this time he was unsuccessful losing 3-6, 6-7.
Naturally the Spaniard was extremely happy regardless and was enjoying the special victory from today:
“Everything changed [after being 2-5 down], I started to be more positive, believing in myself that I could win and come back.”
Verdasco found the key to his success today:
“I was more confident today than any time before. I was not missing one return [at the end] and I still kept believing – and I finally won!”
Today was a victory in his career and a moment in his life that Fernando Verdasco will not forget, especially in his home town:
“It is my biggest victory of my career and against him, here in Madrid.”
Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.
While all the talk has been about the colour of the clay in Madrid ahead of this week’s combined Mutua Madrid Open, there is an important tournament to be played on the new surface and there is a long list of title contenders in the women’s draw.
The top half of the draw features World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka who overcame a tough first round hurdle this weekend with a straight sets win over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Despite a flawless start to her season, the Belarussian could use a strong showing at a major clay court event leading into Roland-Garros. Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Na Li are all in Azarenka’s quarter and her arch rival, new world no. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska is once again a potential semifinal opponent. Azarenka is the only player to beat the Pole so far in 2012. Radwanska’s section is already void of three seeds, Marion Bartoli, Dominika Cibulkova and a slumping Francesca Schiavone. Despite some of the favourites bowing out early, Radwanska could meet Sara Errani, the hottest clay court player in the world, in the second round. Errani has won 15 straight matches and three consecutive tournaments on the red dirt, including a title win last week in Budapest.
On paper, the bottom half of the Madrid women’s draw is definitely the tougher and deeper side. Leading the way is Stuttgart champion and world no. 2 Maria Sharapova. The rejuvanted Russian continues to make strides on clay and she rolled through her opening match. Fans are looking ahead to a potential blockbuster quarter-final between Sharapova and Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, or even the emerging Mona Barthel. Sharapova and Williams have not played eachother since Stanford last summer and with many labeling them French Open favourites, both would likely relish the opportunity to go head-to-head before Paris. Defending Madrid champion Petra Kvitova and the clay savvy Samantha Stosur could also meet in the quarter-finals. Both could use a big showing on the blue clay courts. As she proved last year with her title run, the Madrid altitude and quicker surface are certainly favourable conditions for Kvitova’s big game.
In keeping with a prevalent WTA trend in 2012, expect the top four players to be still standing in the latter stages of the tournament, but not without being tested along the way. At the same time, upsets will not be uncommon given the uncertainties and concerns about the new clay surface. It will be interesting to see what kind of champion the blue courts will crown.