WHAT’s the Spanish for cojones? Fernando Verdasco may never play as well in victory as he did in defeat yesterday. At No 54 in the world, the man from Madrid was widely expected to offer no more than token opposition to Andy Murray, who had not even dropped a set in his previous four matches.
Instead, the 29-year-old won the first two sets, came within a handful of points of winning the match, and generally played with equal measures of courage and skill.
The left-hander made more than a few errors with the length of his forehand drives, but more than compensated for that with the power and precision of his serve. And all with not so much a hair out of place on his Brylcreemed bonce.
Just as impressively, Verdasco displayed true generosity of spirit at the end of his five-set defeat. Many competitors in such a situation look downcast and barely make eye contact with their own opponents: he found it in him to smile and congratulate Murray.
Maybe there was a touch of self-congratulation in that smile as well, at the end of a spectacle which left the Centre Court crowd reeling. If so, it was well deserved, for he had played a major role in producing what was arguably the best match of the tournament so far.
Afterwards, at his Spanish press conference, Verdasco examined the match patiently, in some detail. The gist of it was that he had thought he was going to win, and that the main reason he had not done so was his failure to convert a few break points. That analysis was true enough, but it hardly captured the excitement of what had gone before. Perhaps he too, like the 15,000 spectators and the millions watching on TV, had simply been drained of excitement.
By that time, Murray had already paid tribute to the bravery Verdasco had shown, particularly on the big points when so many players either tighten up or simply play the percentages. “He really went for it and he served extremely well,” the second seed said. “I mean, I wouldn’t say I was surprised in terms of the pace he was serving at because, you know, you can check the stats from the other matches and he’s been serving big the whole tournament.
“A lot of serves very close to the line on big points. When he was break points down on second serves he wasn’t slowing it down or going for the middle of the box. He was going out the lines and came up with some huge serves on big moments throughout the whole match, really.”
Besides the huge serves, Verdasco is known for his phenomenal forehand, which a questioner described as “a force of nature”. But Murray, who had benefited from more than a few erratic forehand drives, rightly said that the serve had been a more formidable weapon.
“The serve for me was trickier than the forehand. I mean, there’s a lot of guys on the tour that have big forehands and big strokes. I didn’t find the forehand as hard to deal with as the serve. He served extremely well, and because of that serve he’s able to dictate points with his forehand. Once I was able to get into the rallies and return a bit better and stuff I was able to take away the power or strength of his forehand.
“But, when he was serving well, he could dictate the points with his forehand. When he’s doing that, he’s incredibly tough to beat.”
Incredibly tough, and incredibly brave. Verdasco lost the match yesterday, but won many new admirers.