August 25, 2011

Cincinnati Masters 1000 • 2011

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Cincinnati Masters 1000

After a three and a half hour Spanish showdown between world number two Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco some people were left wondering about the state of their friendship after Nadal scored a difficult 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 defeat over his compatriot.  Are the Spaniards genuinely friends or did the cold handshake from Fernando Verdasco send signals of them being ‘frenemies?’

A ‘frenemy’ a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy ” is a widely used word which simply means an enemy of yours disguising themselves as your friend.  Do I feel this is the definition of the relationship between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco? No.

The two Spanish players on the tennis court are exactly that: players.  They are on opposite sides of the net because they are playing against each other. It’s what they do. Each is the others opponent, the person they are aiming to defeat, to progress into the next round.  When either player steps onto the court, they cannot think about playing against their friend, they must treat it like business. They are there to do their job and that job is winning and beating their rival – whether they are friends off the court or not.

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It is true to say that neither player displayed beautiful tennis (particularly in the third set tiebreak, which saw Nadal gift his 5-1 lead to Verdasco after a string of errors which nearly saw him lose the match) and they let their nerves get the better of them.  For both, there was a lot at stake.  For Verdasco, it was an opportunity to beat Nadal for the first time in ten previous attempts and gain the confidence and belief back in his game once again.  For Nadal, it was about trying to dispel his nerves, which he was clearly feeling and also boost his confidence in his hard court game after an early exit in Montréal last week.

Winning the match would have done wonders for Verdasco’s confidence, losing for Nadal would have seen his confidence sail further to the ground before the defense of his US Open title begins. So for both players, they had a lot to play for.  Playing a match consisting of three tie-breaks, certainly is not easy, as both players were inconsistent and towards the end of the third set tie-break, either player could have walked away the victor.  It was a match of nerves and a battle of the head rather than consistency.

It is true to say that there were high emotions running on the court, as Nadal had his ‘game face’ on, got cross at himself for some of his errors and Verdasco was seen throwing his racket, shouting out loud and at the end of the match, he bent down and spat on the baseline.  I am not condoning his spitting on the baseline as it is not pleasant to see, but I feel that it had no reflection on his feelings towards his fellow Spaniard, but purely a release of disgust at losing the match.  Players let tension out in different ways – throwing their racket, bad language, shouting at themselves under a towel during their break, some even take a toilet break to use this time to reflect on what has just happened whilst in the bathroom.

The exchanged handshake was ‘cold’ at the net, but one cannot expect Verdasco to go jumping into the arms of Nadal for a hug. The disappointment was clear to see on his face, as he was understandably upset after being up a break in the third. He hit forty seven winners compared to only twenty four by Nadal. How many times have we seen Rafa be all smiles at the net after losing to Djokovic this year?  Is it a sign that the pair dislike each other? I doubt it.  Verdasco and Nadal may not go on beach holidays together and declare themselves to be the best of friends, but that does not mean they hate each other.

In his on court interview with Spanish TV channel, Teledeportes, Rafa discussed how there was a lot of emotion on the court in the match, that he was nervous during the big points and felt sorry for Fernando Verdasco, but was happy to come through it and win.  Shortly after Nadal applauded Verdasco as he rapidly left the tennis court.

A week after the US Open finishes, on the 16th September, the Davis Cup tie between Spain and France commences, so all of the Spanish and French teams will be reunited playing for their country again.  I’m sure we will see all of the players cheering their fellow countrymen on, because they are a team.

Lisa-Marie Burrows

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