late night

Fernando Verdasco: Press Conference & Match

In a match the lasted just over two and a half hours, Fernando Verdasco battled back to beat Michael Berrer in the second round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The final score was 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6). Berrer held two match points at 5-2 in the 2nd set but couldn’t close it. Verdasco unexpectedly kicked into fifth gear and won the next five games forcing a third set. It wasn’t pretty tennis and both had trouble returning each other’s first serve, but the crowd was exhilarated by the score.

In the first set, as explosive as his forehand was, Verdasco otherwise seemed tired and drained out of energy. But according to his press conference afterward he “woke up at 12:30pm today” and felt well-rested before the match. I then brought up whether a concert he attended of friend Alejandro Sanz the night before affected his play today. He stated that he “left at 10:30pm. By Spanish standards, that’s early!” I’ll admit I smiled, but for two reasons. One, he was charming and funny in the way he said it. Two, I had already checked the timestamp on his twitter and it didn’t quite support it. At midnight, he tweeted “Having dinner!” and just over an hour later came “Good night everybody!” It’s possible that the time may not have accurately tracked his current location on twitter, or perhaps he had just lost track of time and didn’t want to blame his less-than-stellar play on a late night out. In all fairness, the good eleven hours of sleep he did get should be sufficient recovery. Tennis players have a very unique schedule with matches and practices both early in and late into the day. Plus, it’s summer and he should be able to enjoy his time freely. I guess tennis players need to have some fun outside the courts too!

As the match progressed into the 3rd set, I found my head shaking again and again in doubt. Verdasco’s toss was horribly off. He would throw it too far behind him, let it drop and try again. It’s ok if this happened a couple of times. But no, this occurred at least a dozen times that I counted. I started imagining his future: the press and fans defining his entire game simply by his bad toss. The kind of bad dream that Ana Ivanovic had been in for a while where the more she tried, the further away she got from her serving goals. I cringed at the thought and tried to dispel it. But each time he threw a ball too far behind him again, I would find a few more faces in the crowd cringing with me. “I need Verdasco at the top of the rankings, we ALL need Verdasco.”

Thankfully, as errant as his toss was he still managed to serve decent. When asked about his toss in the press conference, he replied he had no problems really. He said that several times the wind picked up on-court and he stopped the ball instead of serving it. He also claimed that the “people moving” in the crowd disrupted his concentration when he tossed it a few times and he let it go as well. This was a surprising answer. Actually one I had never thought of or heard of before. Every match has ‘people moving’ around. They are the ones who pay to watch the players play. It seems a bit out of the ordinary to cite that as a reason for the horribly-constructed toss. But then again, I should take his word for it instead of speculating that he is having problems. He did mention that he was having a hard time seeing the ball in the third set because it was getting quite dark and he hadn’t played a night match in the humidity in a while. It was actually his first time in Washington, D.C. and I won’t shy away from the fact that it has been quite muggy lately.

Verdasco was then asked “Why decide to play D.C. this year, and not before?” I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the reasoning behind his scheduling. When he had played Davis Cup in France last month, he hurt his ankle slightly and even played Bastad still injured. The following week, he then had to pull out of Gstaad with a microtear in his hamstring. He looked into the schedule, wanting to play a 500-level tournament this month to make up for those missed points, and decided to come to D.C. for the first time as a wildcard. Sometimes I sit and wonder how players decide which tournaments to play and when to take vacation, so this was an enlightening inside look as to how it’s done on the tour from one player’s perspective. I respect his and all player’s match schedules as most tennis fans do. The ATP calendar really is a grueling and long one and a few weeks missed can bump you down in the rankings significantly, especially if it’s injury related. Just take note of Juan Martin del Potro whose last match was at the Australian Open in January and who, just this week, picked up a racquet after more than six months of being away from tennis because of a wrist injury that needed surgery. I can’t stop wondering whether he’ll ever be able to play at 100% capacity as before. I’m hopeful, as are many, but only time will tell. And it’s time that gets more and more precious for these players. No wonder Verdasco tries to enter as many tournaments in a year as his body can handle.

One last interesting thing of note from the press conference was regarding the relative non-existence of other Spaniards in the Legg Mason field. Among the Spaniards he referred to, one mention caught my attention in particular. And that is the story behind Feliciano Lopez actually wanting to come and play in D.C. this year as well. What happened and why didn’t he? Well, as Verdasco put it, “Feli” had asked the ATP to sign him up for Legg Mason and quite frankly they “forgot” to. I’m not sure how this works, but Verdasco seemed disappointed as the two are great friends on and off the court. Feli has played in years past and it seemed fitting for the two friends to enjoy the tournament together. We missed out on what could have been another venerated doubles team .

All in all, as nerve-wrecking as his match was for a spectator to watch, he was calm and collected in his press conference afterward. He seems to have the attitude that “nothing is wrong” on-court and everything can be handled. That’s an admirable mindset to have when you’re hitting well and winning. However, it can be a tricky position when your game begins to falter. His misplaced toss and weaker-than-usual return game and footwork could be a sign of troubles to come. It might have just been a bad day at the office, but it’s something to be vigilant of in the future. Keeping an eye on his injuries and possibly cutting back on his full schedule could alleviate this rollercoaster of stellar performance followed by a mediocre one. We want to see his best tennis but, more importantly, we want him healthy.

Verdasco has something else to be proud of and that is his fan support. On his first day of practice when he first arrived, there were two dozen people watching him. The day following his first match, he became a star. A pleasant guy off-the-court, he loves interacting with fans and enjoys their words of support. His forehand and court presence are as immense as they are exhilarating. Next time you have a chance to see Verdasco live, don’t pass up the opportunity!

Federer Cruises Past Acasuso In Cincinnati; Querrey Upsets Roddick

World No. 1 and two-time champion Roger Federer cruised past Argentine Jose Acasuso, 6-3, 7-5, in 70 minutes on Wednesday afternoon to advance to the third round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

A fairly routine first set saw Federer break Acasuso’s serve in the eighth game before serving out the set on his serve. In that opening frame, Federer won 94 percent of first serve points compared to just 70 percent by the 26-year-old Argentine.

Acasuso, who is currently ranked No. 51, didn’t disappear quickly, making the 15-time Grand Slam singles champion earn every one of his points. In fact, at 4-4, Federer held a 0-40 lead on Acasuso’s serve before an overturned call on the challenge system helped the Argentine erase the last break point that game.

“Sometimes those breakpoints, they are over in a hurry,” said Federer, who improves to 5-0 lifetime against Acasuso. “You just try to get the first ball back and that’s what I couldn’t do. I couldn’t get the ball back on all three occasions.”

Federer quickly regrouped at 5-all, 15-40, when he made a remarkable return followed by good offensive play to break serve. This Swiss, who improved to 15-6 in Cincinnati, held serve at ease to win the match. Federer smashed 14 aces and just two double faults compared to 11 aces and three double faults by Acasuso.

“This is a good first match for me,” said Federer, who has won three titles this season.

Federer will next face unseeded Spaniard David Ferrer, who defeated No. 14 seed Marin Cilic yesterday.
Federer

In a thrilling late night match, Sam Querrey squeaked past No. 5 seed Andy Roddick, 7-6(11), 7-6(3), in one hour and 57 minutes, to earn his first victory over the former No. 1 in four meetings.

It was a serving classic for the fans, as Querrey smashed 16 aces while Roddick hit 10. But serving wasn’t the only thing on display, as both players displayed remarkable ground strokes throughout the match.

Querrey, who won the title in Los Angeles in July, held a set point on Roddick’s serve at 5-4 but was unable to secure the break to win the set. In the tiebreak, Querrey held four set points before finally closing out the set on his serve.

In the second set, Roddick raced ahead 3-1 after breaking Querrey’s serve in the fourth game. Querrey responded by immediately breaking back.

The second set eventually headed to another tiebreak, where Querrey quickly jumped ahead 5-1. Serving up 6-3, Querrey smashed an ace to close out the match in style and advance to the third round.

“Definitely one of my best wins ever,” said Querrey, who is currently ranked No. 26 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. “Probably the best for me. You know, feels pretty good.”

Awaiting Querrey in the third round is a date with former world No. 1 and two-time grand slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt, who eased past German Benjamin Becker, 6-3, 6-3. Hewitt leads the series 1-0, winning last season in straight sets in Indian Wells.

In other Stadium court action, last year’s runner-up Novak Djokovic of Serbia held off a courageous fight from Croatian qualifier Ivan Ljubicic to advance with a 7-6(5), 6-4 victory in one hour and 40 minutes.
The 22-year-old Serb put on a serving clinic against the 30-year-old Croatian, smashing nine aces, while winning 35 of 36 first serve points throughout the match. Djokovic, who has won titles this year in Dubai and Belgrade, won all 18 points on his first serve during the opening set.

“It’s really important to get my serve going and have a high percentage of the first serves in,” said Djokovic, who improved to 3-1 lifetime against Ljubicic.

Despite struggling with Djokovic’s serve, winning only one of 36 points on the Serbian’s first serve, Ljubicic was able to smash 15 aces without hitting a double fault.

“He was serving really well, and he was going for the shots,” said Djokovic.

With the victory on Wednesday, Djokovic earned his 50th singles win of the season, just the second player to accomplish that this season on the ATP World Tour.

The Serb, who reached the quarterfinals last week in Montreal, will next face Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who rallied to beat American wild card John Isner, 6-7(1), 6-3, 4-1 ret.

On Grandstand, No. 16 seed Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic rallied past Russian wild card Marat Safin, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in one hour and 54 minutes. Stepanek, who improved to 2-1 lifetime against Safin, won 84 percent of first serve points and broke Safin’s serve on four of 15 opportunities. The Russian, who likely made his last appearance in Cincinnati after announcing that he would retire at the end of 2009, smashed 10 aces but hit an abysmal eight double faults in the loss.

Stepanek, who won titles earlier this year in Brisbane and San Jose, will next face new world No. 2 Andy Murray in the third round, who saved a set point in the opening set to hold off a gutsy effort from Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, winning 7-6(3), 6-2.

Other Winners on Wednesday in Cincinnati
Second Round
No. 2 Rafael Nadal def. Andreas Seppi, 7-6(4), 7-6(3)
Chris Guccione def. No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6(12), 6-2
No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko def. Igor Kunitsyn, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez def. Mikhail Youzhny, 7-5, 6-3
Paul-Henri Mathieu def. Ivo Karlovic, 7-6(9), 6-4
Julien Benneteau def. Jurgen Melzer, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
Tomas Berdych def. Philip Petzschner, 7-6(8), 6-7(7), 6-4