The first round match between Fernando Verdasco and Radek Stepanek had the potential to be a great match, an early five set match – but it almost wasn’t. The Spaniard took his time warming up and finding his way into the match but eventually walked away with a 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 9-7.
Fernando came out playing passively seemingly happy to just pock the ball back into court. He seemed to lack any intensity and seemed flustered by the breeze and as a result was broken in the opening game.
After going down a double break Verdasco, still lacking in many aspects of his game but showing good reflexes, managed to break back to stay within touch of Radek at 2-4. The wind seemed to warp Fernando’s ball toss and frustrated the unsettled Spaniard who seemed unable to compensate for the deviations and dropped serve again.
Part way through the third set Verdasco bent over and grabbed his ankle and grimaced at the end of a point. With no word on the potential injury or if it was pure frustration the Spaniard played on. Since Verdasco played on a broken ankle (knowingly!) at the Australian Open there has been no real answers as to how the ankle healed up with the very little rest he gave it.
In the third Verdasco seemed to hold a little easier while Stepanek, always consistent, waited for another error while continuing his own high level of play. With his nose in front at 4-3 the two battled for Stepanek’s service game before Verdasco finally broke and positioned himself to serve for the set and force a battle for the fourth.
As the wind continued to blow Verdasco seemed to have settled as he broke for a 3-2 lead early in the fourth. Verdasco then battled to hold serve against a relentless Stepanek who continued to push and fight the Spaniard all the way. Stepanek was so consistent with his pressure that he managed to break back as Verdasco served for the set at 5-4. Fernando eventually took the set in a tiebreak.
In the seventh game of the final set Verdasco faced two break points but dug himself out of a hole to lead 4-3 in the final set as he continued dictating play and pushing Stepanek around the court.
At 8-7 Verdasco found some brilliance and precision that gave him two match points after a great cross court pass, drop shot winner and a perfect lob. It was the fourth time in Fernando’s career that he has come back from a two set deficit.
Verdasco has spent most of the last 12 months traveling without his coach but in the company of his wealthy father. While Fernando, 27, has made use of the Adidas player development team it seems almost a waste of his talent for him to flail about on court, wafting in and out of focused enthusiastic play and to slide further down the rankings.
After an average 12 months it will be interesting to see what Fernando’s next move will be and if he still recognizes he should be in the top ten and working his way deep into Grand Slams. He clearly needs a change and a confidence boost – maybe another Davis Cup final will awaken the beast again.
He will now face Robin Haase in the second round.