By Greg Stutchbury
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Fernando Verdasco can finally replace the memory off an epic failure with a glorious triumph after stunning fifth seed Rafa Nadal at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
The Spaniard’s five-set loss to compatriot Nadal in semi-final of the season opening grand slam in 2009 is still talked about at Melbourne Park but the 32-year-old hopes that will stop after consigning his friend to a first round exit.
Tuesday’s sequel on Rod Laver Arena mirrored their clash on the same court seven years ago when Nadal prevailed in five hours 14 minutes, the longest Australian Open match at the time, before going on to beat Roger Federer in the final.
This time though a stunning six-game burst gave Verdasco victory after trailing 0-2 in the fifth set.
“Still (people) tell me how good I played seven years ago,” Verdasco told reporters after his 7-6(6) 4-6 3-6 7-6(4) 6-2 victory in four hours 41 minutes.
“I’m like, ‘I didn’t play again after that?’ Even last night they told me at the hotel (about the 2009 match) and I’m like ‘I play against him tomorrow’.”
Verdasco said he had watched a full replay of the 2009 semi-final about 10 times to learn from his mistakes but felt he was suffering a touch of deja vu on Tuesday.
“Today’s match was very similar,” the world number 45, who served a double-fault to end the 2009 encounter, said.
“I was for a second thinking about semi-finals and I was like ‘please I don’t want to lose with a double fault in 5-4, 30-40.'”
The 32-year-old, however, played fearlessly in the decider and blasted a cross court forehand service return to inflict only Nadal’s second opening round defeat at a grand slam and book a second-round clash with Israel’s Dudi Sela.
“Sometimes if you do what I did today, you can put all the balls outside and it’s like ‘this guy’s crazy. He just hits everything and misses’,” he added.
“But when they are in, you’re playing unbelievable.
“The difference is just so little but can be so big.”
(Editing by Martyn Herman)