Four years ago, Fernando Verdasco was the darling of Melbourne Park. He was the unknown factor, the one whom no one had predicted, as he stormed to the 2009 semi-finals and oh-so-nearly beat Rafael Nadal. But that was about as good as it got. Since then, the Spaniard has been a perennial, an always-maybe but never-quite-bet-on-it.
That was certainly the case in his third round encounter against the big-serving Kevin Anderson on Friday, with the South African beanpole hitting Verdasco off the court in the end, none more so than with his final forehand, to win 4-6 6-3 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2 to reach the fourth round.
Anderson is no walkover, and Verdasco would have known that. The big-serving South African went 30 wins to 26 losses in 2012, won a title (in Delray Beach), and continues to linger well inside the world’s top 50, ranked at 31 on the way into Australian Open 2013.
But Verdasco has been doing his bit off the court too. The Spaniard was pictured hard at work training in Las Vegas during the winter months with the adidas academy contingent, and, even if he does look increasingly like the Last Samurai, still has the weapons that caused such trouble on the Plexicushion in 2009.
They were certainly in full force for much of the opening set, the 22nd seed winning it 6-4 after 40 minutes.
The pair’s total winners and unforced errors so closely resembled the other, Verdasco going 52 to 42, while Anderson went 55 to 46, that it’s a mark of the fact that this match was never a foregone conclusion.
The 26-year-old Anderson, who unseated Andy Murray during his post-Wimbledon period in 2011, stormed to a 5-2 lead in the second set, taking it 6-3 after 39 minutes.
Verdasco, thinking of those cold Vegas nights in thermals, rallied to win the third, making the breakthrough at the death to win it 6-4 in 47 minutes.
With both players struggling to get a handle on the other’s delivery, Anderson sneaked the fourth on a tie-break, 7-4, after 63 minutes, and then fired himself up to 5-2 in the fifth.
With Verdasco serving at 2-5, 30-40, having missed his first serve, Anderson fired a forehand winner off the middle of his strings that grazed the side of the tramlines.
His hands in the air, applauded by the crowd, his next mission will be the winner of Jurgen Melzer and Tomas Berdych. And he can’t wait.