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Rafa battles past Verdasco in epic encounter

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 15:22

It was the mens semi-final that the crowd had been waiting for. The opportunity to see world No.1 Rafael Nadal take on No.14 seed and Andy Murray conqueror Fernando Verdasco. It was a battle of two Spanish lefties, each with a mission to make it to the final. Nadal was playing in his 10th Grand Slam semi-final, while it was the first for Verdasco.

On the basis of their past encounters, and by virtue of the ease with which Rafa has breezed through the previous rounds, Nadal was the favourite by a country mile. He had not dropped a set and the stats showed he had only conceded 40 games. The pair has met six times before and Nadal has won every meeting. In fact, in all of these matches Verdasco has only ever taken one set out of 14.

But there was something different about Fernando today. There was an air of confidence, an aggression and consistency to his game that has not always been evident before. He pushed Rafa all the way to a tiebreak in the first set, winning it 7-4. Nadal took the next two sets.

Four hours in and it was 4-4 in the fourth set. After a long exchange between the players Nadal whipped an astonishing shot down the line the crowd leapt to their feet in rapturous applause. It was 4-5 in favour of Nadal. The set would eventually go to a tiebreak.

Despite receiving treatment on his left leg Verdasco began to move again. The first point of the fourth set tiebreak was incredible. Nadal hit a crosscourt angled forehand that bounced so high it was a phenomenal feat when Verdasco not only made contact with the ball but also returned it with a powerful accuracy into the far corner. The No.14 seed was definitely in the zone and went on to take the tiebreak 7-1, levelling the match at two sets apiece.

To say the match went the distance is an understatement. The fifth set contained some pulsating points and it was heartbreaking that Verdasco, serving at 4-5 to stay in the match, chose this game to serve two double faults. Having already heroically saved two match points, Fernandos second double fault handed the victory to his compatriot.

Rafa dropped to the ground in celebration, and once he had collected himself he leapt over the net to embrace a very tired looking Verdasco. The match lastest an incredible five hours and 14 minutes, in what was the longest mens singles match in Australian Open history (6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4). The world No.1 also scored 193 points to Verdascos 192. It was that close.

Maybe it will prove advantageous to Federer who meets Rafa in the final on Sunday. The world No.2 was probably tucked up in bed with his cocoa watching the match on TV. Yesterday he had commented that he did not think the final would be decided on the basis of fitness, whichever Spaniard he would face. But I bet he was quite pleased that it proved to such a brutal contest. And if Andy Murray was watching from home, then he would have seen just how in-form the player was who ended his Aussie Open dreams. Fernando Tabasco, you were mighty hot.

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