Nadal serves up marathon floor show

Spaniard calls on last ounce of energy to beat battling Verdasco and set up tomorrow's final against Federer. Paul Newman reports from Melbourne Park

The longest match ever at the Australian Open ended, appropriately enough, with both men on the floor of Rod Laver Arena here last night. As Rafael Nadal fell on his back in celebration, Fernando Verdasco slumped to his knees in despair after serving a double fault while attempting to save his third match point after five hours and 14 minutes. A contest to bear comparison with some of the finest in history ended at 1.10am with Nadal winning 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4.

An extraordinary display of stroke-making and athleticism provided wonderful entertainment for the crowd, but the happiest spectator must have been Roger Federer, who had won his semi-final in straight sets 24 hours earlier. Nadal is the strong man of tennis, but can he recover in time to beat the game's greatest fast-court player, who will be aiming to equal Pete Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam titles?

Verdasco has been the revelation of the tournament and his performances against Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have put Andy Murray's defeat to the world No 15 in a new light. The Scot had been ill before their fourth-round encounter but still took it to five sets.

Until he played a key role in Spain's Davis Cup triumph last month 25-year-old Verdasco was regarded as an inconsistent hit-and-hope player. However, the victory over Argentina did wonders for his confidence and a winter camp working with Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi's former trainer, has transformed his fitness.

Nadal must have felt he was looking into a mirror as his fellow Spanish left-hander chased down balls and smashed 95 winners. They had won 192 points each until Verdasco served his second double fault of the final game, having made only two in the previous five hours. Nevertheless the most telling statistic was the unforced error count: Verdasco 76, Nadal 25.

A desperately tight first set had turned on a stroke of luck. Nadal was serving at 4-5 in the tie-break when a Verdasco shot, which was going wide, struck the top of the net, toppled over and landed just inside the court. Verdasco finished off the set with a smash.

The first break of serve came in the last game of the second set. Nadal set it up with a superb running forehand down the line and completed it when Verdasco hit a forehand long. The third set featured four breaks but once again it went to a tie-break, which Nadal dominated to win 7-2.

Normal service was resumed in the fourth set as neither player had so much as a break point. Verdasco played a sensational tie-break, winning it 7-1 with a series of huge forehands, but in the deciding set he repeatedly had to dig himself out of trouble on his serve. Nadal is the ultimate competitor but said that he felt so much emotion that there were tears in his eyes when he went 40-0 up in the final game.

This tournament began with talk of Murray replacing Novak Djokovic as the men's champion, but it will now end with a shoot-out between two more familiar gun-slingers. At 22 and 27 Nadal and Federer are hardly preparing for life on the veterans' tour, but they have filled the top two ranking places for three and a half years and their rivalry has lit up the game.

Nadal, four times a Grand Slam champion on clay and once on grass, will be chasing his first major title on hard courts but will derive confidence from his 12 wins in 18 meetings with Federer, including all four last year. Their most recent meeting was their epic Wimbledon final, which Nadal won in four hours and 48 minutes. The Spaniard will be hoping tomorrow's contest is shorter.

News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing