A Spanish left-hander was always likely to offer one of the biggest threats to Andy Murray's chances of winning the Australian Open but the Scot is unlikely to have imagined his name would be Fernando Verdasaco.
Murray had beaten Rafael Nadal's fellow countryman in all five of their previous meetings, but the 25-year-old from Madrid finally got the better of him in the fourth round here today. In the biggest surprise of the tournament so far, Verdasco won 2-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 after a match of rapidly changing fortunes that lasted three hours and 12 minutes.
Verdasco played one of the best matches of his life and served with remarkable power and consistency, while Murray's performance was a curious mixture. There were times when the world No 4 justified his status as the pre-tournament favourite, but at others he looked sluggish and out of sorts. After the match Murray refused to blame the sore throat he had been suffering since his second-round win over Marcel Granollers, but he never looked at the height of his physical powers. "He served huge," Murray said. "Sometimes you've just got to say: 'Too good.' He played better than me."
If Murray had gained confidence through his physical work in Florida over the winter, Verdasco has also benefited from his off-season training in Las Vegas with Gil Reyes, who used to work with Andre Agassi. In particular the Spaniard looked the stronger of the two players in a hard-fought final set. Murray has an excellent record in five-set matches, having won five in a row since his last defeat when going the distance, to Nadal in the fourth round here two years.
In his five previous meetings with Verdasco Murray had dropped only one set, but the hard-hitting Spaniard has been in a fine run of form recently. In particular he appears to have gained in confidence since helping his country to their historic Davis Cup victory in Argentina last month, when he clinched the trophy by beating Jose Acasuso in the fourth rubber from two sets to one down.
Verdasco reached the final in Brisbane in his only competition in the build-up to Melbourne. Here he had dropped just 12 games in his first three matches, the fewest by any player in the first three rounds of the tournament in the professional era.
Murray said afterwards: "I'm disappointed that I lost, but I'll try and learn from it. There are more important things than a tennis match. I want to win every one that I play, but I'm not going to get down about it. I worked very hard in the off-season. It's been a good start to the year. I'll try and learn from it and hopefully come back a better player."
In the first set everything seemed to be straightforward for Murray. The Scot won it with two breaks of serve, converting his first two break points by punishing a poor Verdasco volley in the third game and hitting a big forehand winner down the line in the seventh. If the 21-year-old Scot was showing little of the attacking panache with which he had destroyed Jurgen Melzer in the previous round, his play was steady enough to draw a sufficient number of mistakes from Verdasco's racket.
The Spaniard, nevertheless, had break points in Murray's last three service games in the first set and the tide quickly turned in the second. Verdasco raced into a 3-0 lead and then won a marathon fourth game, breaking Murray for the second time in a row after eight deuces. Even after he had played a sloppy game at 4-0, handing Murray a break with four unforced errors, the world No 15 quickly regained the initiative with his third break in succession to lead 5-1. Verdasco served out to love to level the match after an hour and 18 minutes.
Murray had been looking increasingly lethargic and unhappy, but, without warning, the momentum shifted again at the start of the third set. Having held his serve comfortably for the first time since the second game of the match, the Scot broke serve to lead 2-0 and celebrated with a huge cry of "Come on!" Another break in the sixth game helped Murray to take the set 6-1.
Once again, however, everything changed in the following set. Verdasco went into a 3-0 lead, dropping only three points along the way, and although the rest of the set was tight he served out to take the match into a decider.
The final set, at last, saw both players hit form at the same time. The crowd, sensing Murray's problems, got behind the Scot and in the first five games he looked the more comfortable on his own serve. In a tense sixth game he had two break points, but Verdasco held his nerve and served his way out of trouble.
The effort seemed to take its toll on Murray, who played some tired-looking shots as Verdasco broke in the following game to take a 4-3 lead. When the Spaniard served for the set he went 40-0 up. Murray saved two match points, but on the third his return of serve went into the net.
"I don't know if I'll be the favorite for a Slam in the next year or so after today, but it doesn't really bother me," Murray said as he reflected on his defeat. "I play the match. If I'm the favourite to win, whatever, I play the same as I am when I'm the underdog. I try my best to win. I think I give 100 per cent in all my matches. If I lose, I lose. If I win, I win."Reuse content