Fernando Verdasco knows how to win a tennis match with style

While in general I think Yahoo is a terrible way to get news and info, I like their tennis page because it updates more frequently than the official ATP website, and more importantly, it’s home to Chris Chase’s Busted Racquet Blog. It may stray a bit into the fashion and gossip of the tennis world, and in fact I find I often disagree with Chris’ take on a tennis match,  but the guy knows what he’s talking about and it is a nice source of tennis news and tidbits. All in all, it’s a good way to kill time while waiting for  a friend to show up on a train.

This evening, I see that Chris is showing off a youtube clip of a Verdasco-Ferrer match that he (and the posters of the original clip) are calling the “best match point ever”:

In case you can’t see the video, or aren’t particularly familiar with Tennis, there are a couple of things that make this spectacular, and at the risk of repeating some of the ideas presented at Busted Racquet, here goes:

First, this is match point in match that ended 5-7, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4). That’s 4 hours of tennis, and the guy that won was down two sets to love at one point, which is kind of like trailing by two at the start of the final period in a hockey game. It’s a steep hill to even fight your way back up to a tie game, which Verdasco did, and at that point, he had to play all the way into a fifth set tiebreak. Tiebreaks are awful, stressful things no matter when you play them, because unlike the rest of a tennis match, where a single mistake here and there can usually be made up for by better play later on, a single bad point on your serve can cost you the match. Its not uncommon to see tennis players tensing up, playing more defensively, and all in all taking the fun out of the tennis match when they get into a tiebreak.

Well, not these two. David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco saved the best for last, pulling out all the stops in the tiebreak, hitting big shots and going for winners whenever possible. In the clip, Ferrer is serving to stay in the match– that is, if Verdasco can win the point he wins the match, but Ferrer has the advantage of getting to serve the ball and thus have the first chance to control how the point unfolds. Verdasco is unlucky like this– Ferrer seizes the advantage early, and hits a huge serve out wide. Verdasco stretches to get to it, and Ferrer hits it back to the opposite side of the court. After a couple of shots in a row featuring Verdasco running back and forth across the baseline, Verdasco barely gets to a backhand (UPDATE: It’s a forehand, sorry. I forgot Verdasco was another southpaw Spaniard), which he can’t hit very well and as a result gives a short, slow ball to Ferrer to hit. Ferrer once again takes advantage, hitting the ball in the opposite direction, making Verdasco run some more, and using the opportunity to move closer to the net, a very aggressive, offensive move that amounts to taking a bit of a risk but also puts him in a better position to try to finish the point with a winner.

When your opponent is at the net you don’t have many options, and usually the best thing to do is try to hit a “passing shot,” which is just what it sounds like: You try to hit it past them on one side or another even though they are getting up close and personal where it’s harder to make a ball go by them. Well, Verdasco hits a decent passing shot–not a great one, but a decent one– that catches Ferrer while he’s still on his way to the net. Ferrer, however, being a much much braver man than I am, doesn’t just try to get the ball back in play. Even though he hasn’t made it all the way into his ideal position at the net, he tries to hit a winner, by angling the ball off very sharply and hitting it with backspin. In tennis terms, he’s hitting a sharp-angle, cross-court, half-volley drop shot, and he’s doing it from mid-court as an approach shot (I am now out of hyphens for the week).

So Verdasco is off the back right corner of the court and Ferrer, somehow, boldly hits a soft little ball that moves almost parallel to the net and then bounces in the front left corner of Verdasco’s side. Verdasco, in spite of being off balance when the shot begins, somehow runs all the way across the court and gets to the ball before it’s bounced twice.

However, at this point (and this should give you an idea of how absurd an angle Ferrer was going for) the ball has bounced so far off to the side that it’s outside the court. So by the time Verdasco gets to it (and it’s a miracle he got to it), he can’t just hit it back “over the net” like you usually imagine a tennis player doing. The ball is actually to the left of the net post, So Verdasco, still running full-tilt, does the obvious thing and hits the ball around the outside of the net, somehow getting it to touch down in the back left corner of Ferrer’s court, winning the point and the match. At this point, Verdasco is so far off-court you figure he should just shake the umpire’s hand first while he’s over there, and then go back to the net to shake Ferrer’s hand.

Now, if you watch a lot of tennis, you won’t be completely blown away. You see “round-the-net” shots every so often, and this isn’t exactly the longest rally on record. But just think about how many tennis matches, even between great players, you’ve seen end with a fairly boring point. In particular, think about five-set matches in fifth-set tiebreaks– lots of matches like this one are won because the other guy got too defensive or two tight and just made a silly mistake.

Instead, both of these guys poured everything they had into the final point like it was the first one of the match, and both came up with some spectacular tennis. Kudos, guys.

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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