Not only did Nadal lose but Verdasco won for the first time in 14 matches against his compatriot. Understandably, the win brought both tears of joy and sobs of relief to Verdasco. He earned the victory.
While many, including Nadal and his camp are probably stunned at the loss, the most I feel is surprise. Nadal made it abundantly clear that he was less than enthusiastic about playing on the “new blue” clay in Madrid.
He even went so far as to request from tournament officials that he be allowed to wear tennis shoes designed for play at Wimbledon. Though the request was denied, it clearly showed that Nadal harbored major concerns about the footing at Madrid.
An additional legion of players also expressed dissatisfaction with the slippery nature of the blue surface.
Still, neither the footing nor the blue clay are responsible for Nadal’s loss today. After all, in the third set he was serving for the match with a 5-2 lead but couldn’t close the door.
Now that I find surprising.
Though Nadal played far less than his “A” game, there can be no legitimate excuses for this loss. When you are a 10-time grand slam champion with a 5-2 lead in the deciding set over an opponent you’ve beaten in all 13 previous meetings, barring injury or cataclysmic occurrence, you are supposed to win. Case closed.
The clear and simple truth is that Verdasco refused to concede even when his position appeared desperately hopeless. To his credit, he continued to go for his shots forcing Nadal to win it if it was to be won.
Nadal did make an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors which certainly benefited Verdasco. That’s part of the game.
But Verdasco’s play was somewhat reminiscent of his five set, five-hour, 14-minute semifinal match against Nadal down under in 2009. Though Nadal emerged victorious, the tennis world was treated to one of the most outstanding displays of shot making ever.
Even in defeat, Verdasco garnered tremendous admiration from tennis fans globally for his inspired play.
Today he was able to recapture some of that same magic displayed in Australia. It proved sufficient to finally break through on the 14th try against his countryman, the number two player in the world.
Undoubtedly, the blue clay is more slippery than desirable. At 1-1 in the third set, I looked away momentarily to pick up a sandwich. When I looked back up, Verdasco was doing what appeared to be the “running man” dance.
I was so mesmerized that I failed to bite and returned my snack to a plate. I wanted to determine what exactly had precipitated an outbreak of dance. I figured Verdasco had hit an outrageously spectacular winner and was celebrating. With elite players, you can’t look away for a moment.
The slow motion replay cleared things up. It was a failed point on which Verdasco was actually miming the fact that he was unable get solid footing by sliding his feet back and forth but going nowhere, a la “the running man.”
It was a nifty shuffle. I bet he can dance.
Regardless, with players running in place, sliding before they really want to slide, or slipping when they’re trying not to slide, some surface changes to the blue clay will have to be implemented, preferably after this tournament concludes.
But for now, could Nadal’s shocking fourth round loss be an omen? Could it be an indicator of more upsets yet to come?
Or is blue clay just for Nadal like kryptonite for Superman?
If so, then the remainder of this event could be formful. If not, who knows which top player may become the next victim of the dreaded blue clay.