2009 Match of the Year: Rafael Nadal vs. Fernando Verdasco
16 December, 2009
I love this match. The whole thing. It was interesting from start to finish – how many 5 hour matches can you say that about? The only thing wrong with it? The last point. No match with this much quality and high level of play should end on a double fault.
After five hours and 14 minutes of inspirational tennis, Rafael Nadal outlasted fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7(1), 6-4 in an epic semifinal on Friday night, January 30.
It was not simply the longest match in tournament history. It was also, without question, one of the best.
Refusing to wilt under the Australian summer heat or amidst the pressure of a Grand Slam semifinal, both competitors—remarkably—sustained a jaw-dropping level of tennis throughout all 314 minutes of their spirited, incredibly well-played clash.
Verdasco, having never previously sniffed the final weekend of a Grand Slam, blasted 95 winners past Nadal. Has anyone ever—and I mean EVER—struck 95 shots within the lines yet beyond the reach of a player of Nadal’s defensive caliber?
Nadal, meanwhile, fired more than twice as many winners (52) as unforced errors. The tournament’s No. 1 seed committed a mere 25 mistakes over the course of the entire match. For those counting, that means Nadal made one unforced error—just one—every 12 minutes and 34 seconds. Are you serious?
Keep in mind, furthermore, that a significant percentage of the points consisted of marathon, hard-to-believe rallies. Only 33 points resulted in aces. Still, in brilliant fashion, Nadal and Verdasco combined for 46 more winners than errors.
They played 59 games and 385 points. Prior to the 385th and final point of the instant classic, it was all even: Nadal 192, Verdasco 192.
A heavy underdog against an opponent whom he had never defeated in six career attempts, Verdasco went toe to toe with Nadal until the very last second. Serving to stay alive at 4-5 in the fifth set, Verdasco saved two match points at 0-40 and 30-40, both with swinging volley winners.
“In the last game, at 0-40, I started to cry,” Nadal explained afterward. “It was too much tension.”
And he was right. It was too much.