FLUORESCENT green top and a suntan that made the rest of us look ill, it was hard to miss Fernando Verdasco on the practice courts of Aorangi Park yesterday – and it will be even harder to miss him today, when he walks on to Centre Court alongside Andy Murray.
Verdasco says he is playing his best-ever stuff on grass and says also, maybe in jest, that by the time he begins against Murray he will already have spoken to his fellow Spaniard and good friend, Rafa Nadal, about how to beat the Scot.
Verdasco is polite and respectful, but it is clear he likes his chances of finally making something of his grand slam career after an age in the land of the journeyman.
Verdasco has not beaten much on his way to the last eight, but he has done it well. He has not played a guy in the top-30 in the world on the way to his meeting with Murray, but confidence has returned to the left-hander from Madrid, whose raw talent belies a lousy record in these major championships.
He is in a Hall of Fame, but not that type of Hall of Fame. Cosmopolitan magazine is not so fussy about such things. As a 24-year-old back in 2008, Verdasco ticked all the boxes for Cosmo’s glamour pages. He was a lothario, the son of a wealthy father whose restaurants in Madrid regularly host the stars of the Bernabeu, Real’s galacticos being pals as much as patrons. Verdasco’s glamour extends to the women in his life, a steady stream of lovelies. Ana Ivanovic is just one of the conveyor belt of stunners in his past.
It should be noted that the reason Verdasco posed naked for Cosmo was to raise awareness for cancer research, but in so many ways other than getting his kit off he could be described as Murray’s polar opposite.
Murray, quite simply, has had the career that many suspected Verdasco might have when he went from nowhere to world number seven four years ago. A left-hander, Verdasco seemed right on track for a time. A distant time now, of course. In 2009, he was hot – and not just in the Cosmo sense. He reached the quarter-finals of the US Open that year, made the last 16 at Wimbledon and Roland Garros and was a semi-finalist in Australia. He beat Murray en-route. Beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also. In the semi, he pushed Nadal in a classic five-setter, a game that Murray spoke about on Monday evening.
The fact that the one Verdasco match that everybody talks about dates back four years tells you much about how his career gone in the meantime. “I have known Andy since the days when we were in Spain,” he said. “I have known him from the many years we were on the tour. We always had a good relationship off the court and on it also. He’s a few years younger than me, but we have known each other since juniors.”
As men, they have only met twice in a slam, the first in Australia in 2007 when Murray won in straight sets, the second when Verdasco was in his pomp in Melbourne in 2009. Many models and actresses have passed through his life since then, but not many titles. “I don’t know the key to why I’ve been playing better this last few months,” he said, “but I’ll do my best and will try to make the most of the little chances that come my way.”
Having seen off the philosopher, Mikhail Youzhny, in the last 16, Murray now meets the ‘playboy’ who might cheerily admit that today could represent the most fun he could possibly have with his clothes on.