Photo credit: BBC Sport
The men’s draw for the Australian Open has been released and it has thrown up a huge first round blockbuster between Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco.
Ahead of their showdown on Tuesday, let’s take the time to look back at the epic semi-final the two titans fought out at the 2009 Australian Open, a match which will go down as one of the most memorable in the tournament’s history.
Nadal entered the Australian Open as the four-time reigning French Open champion, reigning Wimbledon champion, reigning Olympic gold medallist and having dethroned Roger Federer as the world number one after over three years of playing second fiddle to the Swiss Maestro.
However, he also arrived Down Under on the back of a quarter-final loss to Gael Monfils in Doha, but it was not to be indicative of what he would serve up at Melbourne Park as he bid to become the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open.
In a tournament which served up 23 five-set men’s matches, Nadal won his first five matches in straight sets to reach just his second Australian Open semi-final. This included victories over Tommy Haas, Fernando Gonzalez and Gilles Simon.
Awaiting him in the semi-finals was Fernando Verdasco, whose run to his first Grand Slam semi-final included victories over future four-time runner-up Andy Murray in the fourth round and the previous year’s runner-up, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.
Nadal entered this match as the hot favourite, yielding a 6-0 head-to-head record against his older rival. Their most recent match saw Nadal hand Verdasco a 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 humiliation at the French Open eight months earlier.
The prize for the winner was a Sunday night championship showdown against Roger Federer, who defeated Andy Roddick in the first semi-final on the Thursday night. Roddick had dethroned Novak Djokovic as defending champion after the Serb surrendered his title due to heat stress in the quarter-finals.
Both Nadal and Verdasco were keen to test each other out, and so they did, over the course of five hours and 14 minutes, in what was at the time the longest Australian Open match by time (the 2012 final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal would later eclipse this record, clocking in at five hours and 53 minutes).
The first set lasted for an hour and 15 minutes and went to a tiebreak. After Nadal broke for a 4-3 lead, Verdasco would rattle off four points in a row to take the set and thus leave Nadal to lament dropping his first set for the tournament.
But the top-seeded Spaniard would hit back to take the second set 6-4, as cool conditions started to filter through Melbourne after the city had endured a third consecutive day with the temperature above 43 degrees.
Verdasco was serving at 5-4, 40-15 up before Nadal won four points in a row to level the match at one-set all, and thus avert the daunting task of having to come from two sets to love down to win a Grand Slam match for the first time since he faced that deficit against Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007.
The pair would then exchange four breaks of serve (two each) in the third set, and Nadal would take it by seven points to two to take a two-sets-to-one lead into the fourth set.
With the clock ticking past midnight, the fourth set again went to a tiebreak but not before Verdasco requested treatment for cramping early in the set. But it seemed to work in his favour, as he dominated the tiebreak seven points to one to take the fourth set and thus take the match to a fifth and final set.
As per the rules at Grand Slam tournaments, the final set is an advantage set (except at the US Open, where tiebreaks are also used in the final set), which means if it goes beyond 6-all, the player who is able to establish a two-game lead wins the set (and thus the match).
After more than four hours, the question was going to be who would survive the battle of the fittest. With the set on serve in the tenth game, with Verdasco serving, he fell to 0-40, thus giving Nadal three match points.
After saving five break points earlier in the set, Verdasco would save the first two match points with two swinging volley winners, before fatally double-faulting at 30-40 to finally lose the match just after 1:00am in the morning, local time.
The result would eventually send Nadal to his first ever Australian Open final, where he would defeat Roger Federer in another five-setter to win his first title at Melbourne Park.
By defeating Federer, Nadal would become the first Spaniard, male or female, to win the Australian Open, and prevent his career rival from equalling Pete Sampras’ then-record of 14 Grand Slam titles which had stood since 2002.
Federer would, however, equal that record (and complete his Grand Slam set) at the French Open later that year, with Nadal out of the way after he had been upset by Robin Soderling in the fourth round. The Swiss Maestro would later extend his Grand Slam titles tally to a men’s record 17, which has remained stalled since Wimbledon 2012.
As for Verdasco, the pain of losing a five-set match to his good friend in his first ever Grand Slam semi-final was to be eased by his elevation into the world’s top ten for the first time, where he would spend most of the next two seasons in.
MELBOURNE, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Match statistics from Rafael
Nadal's 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-4 victory over fellow Spaniard
Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday.
1st serve percentage 74 69
Aces 12 20
Double faults 3 4
Winning % on 1st serve 92 of 128 - 72 103 of 146 - 71
Winning % on 2nd serve 28 of 45 - 62 36 of 66 - 55
Winners (including service) 52 95
Unforced errors 25 76
Break point conversions 4 of 20 - 20% 2 of 4 - 50%
Net approaches 16 of 23 - 70% 33 of 51 - 65%
Total points won 193 192
Match duration five hours 14 minutes