INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Life as a professional tennis player: Sometimes you claw your way back into a match you seemed destined to lose and sneak out a win. Andy Roddick had that experience on Saturday in his win over Lukasz Kubot.
But sometimes you claw your way back into a match and find a even more painful way to lose. That was Fernando Verdasco's story today, at the end of his 6-2, 7-6 (6) loss to Juan Martin del Potro.
Like del Potro, Verdasco enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2009, rising as high as world No. 7. Today, he was the lower ranked player, No. 19 to his opponent's No. 9. Verdasco hasn't performed well over the last year in big tournaments, earning a single round-of-16 berth in all his Grand Slam and Masters 1000 attempts. He started today's first set poorly, gifting a break on a forehand error followed by a double fault (remember that sequence), and a second break on a huge forehand shank. Del Potro seemed content to allow his opponent to self-destruct.
Verdasco tightened up his game, and his serve, in the second set. As Fernando Gonzalez heads into retirement, Verdasco is a potential candidate for most feared, if erratic, thermonuclear forehand. My notes for the set read: "V big FH winner...and another!...Big FHs V, 15-15....Big V drive FH, forced error..."
The match was on serve in the second set until 5-4, when Verdasco earned three set points at 0-40. Now his real nightmare began. The first set point was saved with an unreturnable serve, the second with a superb forehand transition by Del Potro. Del Potro also took control on the next point and forced an error with a cross-court backhand. But a brilliant Verdasco return set up a fourth set point. The Spaniard couldn't have been faulted for the way he'd played the first three, but this time he dumped an open, mid-court backhand into the net. He beckoned for the ball and slowly rolled it over, but del Potro had slipped out of the trap.
The two traded holds and started a tiebreak. At 4-4, Verdasco took control with a flashing forehand winner and a brilliant return. His fifth set point was snuffed out by a big serve, but then, at 6-5, he had his first opportunity on his own serve. To Verdasco's dismay, a wild forehand shank ended his advantage, and on the next point his 84 M.P.H. second serve fluttered softly into the net. Now with his own match point, del Potro calmly took control of the rally and forced a final backhand error from Verdasco to progress to the next round. He'll face Denis Istomin, who upset David Ferrer, 6-4 6-3, on Stadium 3.
If you're a professional tennis player you have to accept painful losses. Sometimes the other guy's just too good on the day. But sometimes, you start off poorly, give yourself a sliver of hope, then snuff it out yourself. That's the story of Fernando Verdasco's not-very-good day today.