Verdasco rises to defeat Nadal, Murray, Monfils advance, while Wawrinka is ousted (Miami Open Sunday Recap)
Esam Taha for Tennis Atlantic
Yesterday was a thrilling day at the Miami Open, as once again the ATP side of the action stole the show, with a mix of upsets, and quality performances by some of the top players in the men’s game. The biggest story of course is Fernando Verdasco’s massive upset of #2 seed Rafael Nadal, but Nadal wasn’t the only top player to fall, as Stan Wawrinka suffered another early exit at the hands of Adrian Mannarino. From the first ball struck on the day, to the match point of the final match, Miami brought the spice on Sunday, and here is a review.
Fernando Verdasco d. Rafael Nadal 6-4 2-6 6-3
The Miami crowd was in for a huge upset on Sunday when they took their seats in the main Stadium to watch fan favorite Nadal take on veteran Fernando Verdasco in a battle of Spanish lefties. As subpar as Nadal has been this season, he showed glimpses of his old self in Indian Wells and a good showing in Miami would have a huge confidence boost going into the clay season. However the 31 year old Verdasco would be the one who find his form, and boost his confidence going into the clay court season.
Nadal’s compatriot is on the down side of his career steadily falling off the ranking the past few years, but has still been consistent enough to hang around in the top 50. The only good run he had this season was in Quito where he lost to Feliciano Lopez in the semifinal.
Both players held serve rather comfortably in the early proceedings quickly getting to 3-3 in the 1st. At 3-3 with Verdasco on serve, Nadal would be the first to threaten generating the match’s first break point. Verdasco however would keep his composure to win 3 straight points and hold. Verdasco was playing some inspired tennis, really getting into a good rhythm with his groundstrokes. Rafa on the other hand was on and off. Verdasco would capitalize on the very next game, getting the break thanks to an uncharacteristic Rafa double fault on break point to the shock of the crowd. At 5-3 Rafa needed to break back right away if he didn’t want to give up the set, and the crowd was right there behind him, the “VAMOS RAFA” chant could be heard a mile away. The world #3 would respond breaking at 30-40. Fernando wouldn’t be denied however, he would set up break point by winning 3 straight points on Rafa’s serve. Nadal would let his nerves get to him again as he shanks at set point to lose the 1st set to Verdasco on his own serve.
Verdasco might’ve been a little hung over on the first set falling to a 0-40 hole rather quickly on his opening service game in set 2. The veteran would keep his calm and eventually avoid the early break. Rafa seemed more focus now, starting to reduce the errors and hit his spots. At 2-2 with Fernando serving Rafa would really start to take control breaking the world #31 at 15-40. Nadal continued to build momentum closing out his service game with an ace to consolidate the break and go up 4-2. The crowd was starting to sense the pendulum swing and the “VAMOS RAFA” chants were becoming more and more frequent. Verdasco wasn’t playing his best stuff, not nearly the level of tennis that earned him the 1st set. He’d face a double break point at 2-4. Fernando would gather some of that 1st set form to rip a forehand cross court winner and save both BPs. However Rafa was on a mission, he’d win the next 2 points and put a firm grip on the 2nd set as he lined up to serve it out. He would easily hold to even things up at a set a piece as the crowd left their seats in jubilation.
Everyone was sensing the pull of the pendulum in full swing as Verdasco committed back to back double faults to put himself under pressure on his service game. However after a couple of deuces the veteran would find his form once again murdering the ball with a DTL forehand winner to pull off the tough hold. Nadal was looking particularly in the zone ripping inside out forehands winners routinely to hold. Verdasco answered with an impressive hold including an ace and an inside out winner of his own, he was toe to toe with the world #3. Fernando seemed to be dominating court position and taking advantage of the open court as he created a break point on Rafa’s serve. He’d hit another inside out screamer to convert and go up 3-1. The trend seemed to continue with Rafa starting to fade and Verdasco hitting his spots with ease as he consolidated to go up 4-1. Nadal was feeling the pressure as he double faulted on the next service game but eventually held to keep it at a single break. At 2-5 Nadal comes out to serve to stay in the match, the crowd goes absolutely berserk to get behind Rafa. Nerves would show themselves as Rafa double faulted and faced a match point on his serve. However a couple of nervy returns from Fernando would bail him out, Verdasco would have to do it the hard way and serve the match out. The 31 year old would keep his calm as he comfortably held to complete the upset over the fan favorite Rafa Nadal. Nadal had two chances to win a second serve point, and failed to convert, as that was the story of the match. Verdasco held his nerve, but Nadal failed to maintain a consistent level when given opportunities, and thus he will find his feet back on clay sooner, rather than later.
Andy Murray d. Santiago Giraldo 6-3 6-4
Andy would kick off the day session in Miami by taking on the world #31 Santiago Giraldo. The Colombian enjoyed an excellent 2014 propelling him into the top 50. He had one good run this season making it to the Semifinal in Sao Paulo before losing to Cuevas in straight sets. Murray on the other hand has enjoyed a solid season thus far highlighted by his Australian Open final appearance. However his last loss was a humbling one to the world #1 Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells.
The condition were windy again on the day, but that didn’t seem to bother Andy one bit, as wind has always helped his counterpunching game. Murray attacked Giraldo’s serve well early in the set, and eventually would strike first to get the break. Andy was feeling little pressure on his serve and would hold to love and take a 5-2 lead. Giraldo would face a set point in the following game but battle through to force the Scot to do the job himself. He would, and with ease to claim the 1st 6-3. There were a strong Colombian presence in the crowd who were trying to get behind their guy but it didn’t seem to be working. Santiago would get broken to love to start off the 2nd, not the way he wanted to begin a comeback.
Giraldo would actually play better the following game but Murray had really hit his stride, an exquisite drop shot sealed the game to consolidate the break. Murray was more consistent with his groundstrokes, Giraldo was able to keep up with the pace but he always seemed to blink first. As a result the Scot would get his 2nd break and seemed well on his way to a routine victory. Murray would take a commanding 4-0 lead in the 2nd, and despite the Colombian’s back being against the wall the crowd had not thrown in the towel just yet cheering “Santi” on. The Colombian would respond by getting on the board for the 2nd set but he still had a mountain to climb. At 2-5 Giraldo had to come up with something special to avoid getting served out. He’d take the first point to the delight of the crowd. He really rode the crowd’s support that game as he saved 2 match points and broke the Scot to extend the set. Giraldo followed that by a convincing hold, Murray’s would get another chance to advance to the next round. This time he’s succeed in an anticlimactic fashion as the net cord drop the balls too short for Giraldo at a 40-30 match point. Murray however was the better player by far, was very impressive with his groundstrokes and movement out there.
Gael Monfils d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 7-6(4)
The anticipated match between the two friends was finally here, and there was not an empty seat to be found in the Grandstand. Monfils was coming off a tough three set grindfest with Filip Krajinovic was looking to put in a better performance today. Tsonga on the other hand is coming off a roller coaster match with the American Tim Smyczek where we saw a mixed bag of a rusty Tsonga and classic Jo-Willy. This encounter began with the sloppy version of Jo, as double faulted and looking out of sorts, however he’d eventually find a way to hold. Gael’s defense was on display early on as he produced a sweet dipping cross court pass that Tsonga would only punch wide, 1-1 1st set. The sloppy Jo would continue to show up as he couples another double fault with a forehand UE to practically gift his friend the break, Monfils went up 2-1. Gael meanwhile had begun to find his groove, looking the sharper of the 2 as he consolidated to go up 3-1. This time the Tsonga we’re all used to would finally make an appearance with better serving and aggressive play to hold to love. He carried that over to Monfils’ service game coming close to breaking him but Gael kept his composure to hold after facing the double breakpoint.
The world #19 was playing exceptional defense while still going for his shots when an opportunity presented itself. Forcing Jo to hit that once extra shot really seemed to take its toll on the Frenchman. Jo meanwhile would continue to serve well as he held easily to keep the lead at a single break, 4-3 in the 1st. As the match passed the 30 minute mark both players did little to threaten their counterpart’s serve. Monfils would therefore get his first chance to serve out the set. He went for a vintage Monfils nonchalant forehand on a short ball which he missed but fortunately for him it didn’t cost him. He made amends with a clean cross court forehand winner to claim the 1st as the crowd roared him on.
There would be a bit of a lull in the beginning of the 2nd as both players held, but Tsonga didn’t not look sharp, mixing in a few lame returns. That would carry on to his 2nd service game, the rusty groundstrokes would not go unpunished by Gael as the latter broke to go up 2-1. That lead would be short-lived however as Monfils was going through a bit a funk too gifting the break right back to his friend tying things up at 2-2. The dip in Gael’s performance was noticeable now as he stuck a couple of ground strokes right into the net. At 2-3 he would tough out what would prove to be a pivotal hold for the Frenchman. Tsonga continued to display inconsistency as he followed an ace with a double fault, a microcosm of his performance thus far. The crowd would then get treated to a trademark Monfils moment. The Frenchman went for a jumping air-smash only to blast the ball into the stands, he proceed to look down at the racket that had broken, before sending it flying into the crowd turning it into a souvenir for a lucky fan, who was seen waving it around to his friends and family in celebration.
Despite the broken racquet, Gael would avoid being on the receiving end of a similar outcome on court, as he held to even things up at 4-4. With both players serving well, the Frenchmen would continue to trade blows sending the set to within a game of a tiebreak as we passed the hour and a half mark. Tsonga would play an aggressive excellent game generating a double set point. However he’d proceed to bail Gael out by overcooking a forehand to the open court, the missed chance was crucial, as the crowd started to sense that that missed opportunity might prove costly. The tiebreak would begin with both player sticking forehands into the net to trade mini-breaks, going into the changeover at 3-3. Monfils would get the 2nd mini-break by once again playing some incredible defense and following that with a stunning DTL backhand winner. With the match on his racket at 5-4, he would create 2 MPs right away. Tsonga would save one but followed it with a very narrow miss as he went for it all on the cross court forehand return. The good friends would embrace at the net, it was a close battle but Gael was the deserving winner of the duel.
Mannarino ousts Wawrinka, Berdych completes comeback against Tomic
Adrian Mannarino scored a big upset over Stan Wawrinka 7-6(4) 7-6(5). Mannarino has markedly improved in his consistency and has turned himself into a top 30 player, after previously toiling away on the ATP Challenger Tour. Wawrinka was again sloppy and inconsistent, just as he was in Indian Wells, and against Carlos Berlocq in his opening match in Miami. Mannarino broke in the opening game, though Wawrinka broke back, and then he won the tiebreak with solid play compared to his opponent. In the second set Stan threw away breaks of serve twice, to be forced into a tiebreak, as he failed to level the match. Late on, Wawrinka had lost focus and was shanking returns, overall he put up a horrific 46 unforced errors compared to just 19 winners, as Mannarino proved to be a grinding, brick wall of defense. Though his game was bland, it was less porous than Wawrinka, who displayed limited shotmaking ability on the day, and finishes the opening two Masters tournaments of the year with an abysmal 1-2 record.
Tomas Berdych came back from the dead to defeat Bernard Tomic for the fourth time in his career. Tomic was 7-6 4-0 up, after coming back from a break down, and facing set points in the first set, and blitzing the Czech #1 in the second. However, Berdych fought hard in this one, and the wheels came off for Tomic, Tomic had four match points in the second set, including 1 serving at 5-4, but couldn’t convert any of them. Berdych’s power begin to bother him, especially when the Czech moved forward towards the net, and though Tomic’s junkballing was making Berdych have to bend and adjust his body into uncomfortable rally positions, it still didn’t seem like a good matchup for Tomic by the time the third set came around. Berdych blasted him off the court with heavy groundstrokes and clutch serves, and Tomic eventually slumped to a 7-6 6-7 1-6 defeat.
Dominic Thiem won a battle of the young guns with Jack Sock 6-4 6-3, the Austrian extended his winning streak and posted his best tournament result of the season already by defeating Sock. He pressured the American on his serve, while Sock was not a worthy foil when returning serve, eventually Sock collapsed under the weight of Thiem’s pressure, and solid baseline play.
In the late match, Juan Monaco put his shotmaking prowess on display 7-5 6-4 over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. GGL got disheartened by the time it got late into the second, and seemed to lack the will to want to force a third set. Monaco moved well and was solid from both wings, as he tactically moved Garcia-Lopez about, and rushed forward at the right time.
Lisicki topples Ivanovic, Serena dispatches teen Bellis
Sabine Lisicki continued her good recent run of results, defeating a frustrated Ana Ivanovic 7-6 7-5 in the night session WTA match. Earlier in the day, Serena Williams destroyed 15 year old Cici Bellis 6-1 6-1, Simona Halep had a bit of trouble with Camila Giorgi’s power hitting but prevailed 6-4 7-5. Flavia Pennetta beat a struggling Victoria Azarenka 7-6 7-6, Belinda Bencic beat the qualifier Tatjana Maria 6-4 7-5, Sloane Stephens won again 6-4 6-4 over Johanna Larsson, and in the two three setters of the day on the WTA side, veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Angelique Kerber 6-3 3-6 6-3 and Sara Errani upset Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-4 6-1.
Quisner, Sock/Pospisil, Bryans all advance in doubles
Isner/Querrey beat Begemann/Gulbis 6-2 7-6, Sock/Pospisil beat Mayer/Muller 6-2 6-4, the Bryans beat Lindstedt/Melzer 6-1 6-2, popular Brazilian duo Souza/Bellucci advanced over Granollers/Marc Lopez 2-1 ret. and Melo/Soares beat Giraldo/Klizan 7-5 6-3.
Babos/Mladenovic, Hingis/Mirza and Makarova/Vesinina all won their WTA doubles matches.