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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fernando Verdasco

Fernando Verdasco defeated Rafael Nadal for the second time in a row—after losing 13 straight encounters against his friend and former Davis Cup teammate.
Photo credit: AP

Rafael Nadal arrived in Miami convinced he's moving better than he has throughout this season.

Spending two hours, 15 minutes racing around the purple court, the third-ranked Spaniard couldn't close the gap on compatriot Fernando Verdasco, quell his nerves that spiked in the final set—and continue his chase for an elusive Miami title.

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In an all-lefty clash, Verdasco lashed his forehand with ambition to push Nadal into pursuit. Then he shoved the Roland Garros champion right out of the tournament.

Withstanding a six-game run in the second set, Verdasco regrouped in the third and came back firing. The 29th-seeded Verdasco registered a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 victory to advance to the round of 16 for the first time in five years.

"Obviously always beating a player like one of the biggest victories that you can have in tennis," Verdasco said in his post-match press conference. "Of course is a huge victory, and it's always really nice to feel in a packed stadium or almost packed stadium in a very important tournament like this one and playing against one of the best players in history. At the end you just try to enjoy the moment also. Not even winning or losing. You always try to win, but enjoy the moment."

A candid Nadal conceded afterward it was his nerves, more than his game, that contributed to his demise today.

"It's not the question of tennis," Nadal said in his post-match press conference. "The thing is the question of being relaxed enough to play well on court. Something, that if I tell you one month ago or one month and a half ago, I didn't have the game. Today my game in general improved since a month and a half. But at the same time, [I am] still playing with too much nerves for a lot of moments,in important moments, still playing with a little bit ofanxious on that moments."

It is Verdasco's first career hard-court win over his friend and sometime Davis Cup teammate. It's his second straight win over Nadal after suffering 13 straight losses to the former No. 1. His only other victory over Nadal came three years ago on the blue clay of Madrid.

Combating the tricky wind and Verdasco's twisting lefty forehand proved too much for Nadal, who betrayed his own cause with 40 unforced errors and several missed opportunities. Nadal converted just three of 12 break-point chances, while Verdasco made good on three of his six break-point opportunities.

It was a match of wild momentum shifts.

A tight Nadal double faulted off the tape to donate the break and a 5-3 first-set lead. Two games later, Nadal shanked a forehand off his frame and Verdasco had the opening set in hand.

Saving three break points to open the second, Verdasco, who did a fine job stepping up and driving his forehand with authority, broke for 2-0.

Trailing 1-2, Nadal staved off break point with a hard-fought hold for 2-2. Winning that demanding game seemed to settle Nadal, who cruised through the second-set on a six game run to snatch the second set and level the match. 

At that point, it seemed the four-time finalist was finally in charge. Verdasco had other ideas.

Saving two break points to hold for 2-1 in the decider Verdasco went to work on Nadal's serve.

An inside-out forehand winner followed by a forehand that caught the sideline gave Verdasco two break points at 15-40 — the same situation he did not convert in the second set. Nadal roped a forehand winner down the line to save first break point. On the second, Verdasaco opened the court with a severe backhand angle, ran around his backhand and lasered an acute-angled inside-out forehand winner to break for 3-1.

That shot sequence—and his inability to string positive points together at crunch time—burned Nadal in the final stages. Picking the right time to play his forehand down the line, Verdasco plastered a forehand drive to hold at love for 5-2. Nadal saved a match point holding for 3-5.

Serving for the match, Verdasco smacked another forehand winner for his second match point and when Nadal netted a backhand return, it was over.

The 2014 finalist showed his class afterward stopping to sign autographs for fans—Verdasco showed his sportsmanship, too, joining the crowd in applauding Nadal's exit. Nadal didn't look back as he walked off the purple hard court and when asked if he's looking forward to returning to his comfort zone on red clay, Rafa said his most pressing concern his regaining his calm and confidence in critical stages.

"All these are small things that are difficult to explain," Nadal said. "One of the tougher things have been fixed, that is the game, in my opinion.  Now I need to fix again the nerves, the self-control  on court. That's another issue. Is not a tough issue to fix, but I gonna keep trying.  I am trying my best. I am practicing with the right attitude, I think. I arrive in an important part of the season for me. I didn't want arrive to that part of the season with that loss of today ,obviously, but that part of the season arrives."

It is a costly defeat for Nadal, who arrived in Miami with a 115-point lead over Andy Murray for the third spot in the rankings. Suffering his earliest exit on Key Biscayne since losing to Mallorcan mentor Carlos Moya in the 2006 second round, Nadal sounded like a man ready to embrace the dirt. 

"Every tournament is a chance for me. I don't have nothing to lose," Nadal said. "At this point of my career I won enough things to say I don't need to win more, but I want to do it. I want to keep competing well. I want to keep having the feeling that I can be competing for every tournament I gonna play, and I have the motivationto do it. Obviously clay is surface that I had some success, and I hope to be ready for it again."



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