Irrespective of court color or surface speed, Rafael Nadal cannot blow a two-break, 5-2 set lead to a guy he’s beaten all 13 times. But that’s exactly what happened to Rafa today in a stunning loss at the Madrid Tennis Masters. Nadal choked twice serving for the match in the third set allowing Madrid resident Fernando Verdasco to steal a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over his countryman.
”After losing so many times against honestly the best player on clay ever, to beat him on clay is the maximum,” said Verdasco to the AP. ”I don’t have words. I am happy for the win, although it is difficult to hold myself together now. I need to calm down, rest and get ready for the next match.”
The puzzling loss ends Nadal’s 22 match win streak on clay and it will go down as one of the great chokes in Rafa’s career.
“I knew I was in control of the match [at 5-2 in the third set],” said Nadal. “I lost because I deserved to lose today, even if I was winning 5-2. When the moment came to close [out] the match I didn’t know how to do it. I made a big mistake with a smash at 5-2 and 15/0, but that is just anecdotal. That’s what happened, he played better than me and he beat me.”
While Nadal gave credit to Verdasco, afterward he fired a major blow to the tournament’s fleeting hopes that the blue clay would return in 2013. Nadal vowed to boycott the event next year if the tournament didn’t switch back to red.
”Being able to move is very important for me and if I can’t move well, I can’t hit the ball well either,” said Nadal said to the AP. ”If things don’t change, this will be one less tournament on the calendar for me.
”This surface destabilizes the game. It is a completely different game and I don’t want to take risks.”
Later in the day, Novak Djokovic, who was so outspoken about the surface on Tuesday, followed Nadal in threatening to skip the event if it remained true blue.
“You are tripping and slipping and sliding all the time and the winner will be the one who doesn’t get hurt until the end of the week because a lot of players fell down,” Djokovic said to the BBC.
Perhaps motivated by Nadal’s upset, Djokovic put on a good performance dismissing Stan Wawrinka 7-6, 6-4. No Chuck Norris help needed today as he advanced to face countryman Janko Tipsarevic who looked really good in beating Gilles Simon.
In between, Roger Federer followed up his fine win last night by ripping Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-2 in under an hour. Federer moves on to meet David Ferrer tomorrow in the quarterfinals.
Federer leads Ferrer 12-0 but on these slick courts the Spaniard’s going to make Roger hit a lot of balls, so it should be a good match.
“This is a tough task ahead of me but I feel like I’m playing pretty good the moment and I expect myself to play better each match so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow,” said Federer.
And if Federer wins the title he’ll return to
No. 1 No. 2. Again, with Nadal out it’s a great opportunity for someone to grab the points and prize.
While the Big Three grab the headlines, Juan Martin Del Potro continues to dominate. The Argentine won his 9th straight match on clay pounding Munich finalist Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4. Del Potro takes an 18-set win streak against the tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov tomorrow. I think Delpo stays hot but with the Ukranian’s unpredictable nature it figures to a tough test.
Tomas Berdych also appears to be in fine form on the blue. The Czech chunked Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-1 and he’ll next face Verdasco. And after Fernando’s big career win I like Berdych to come through.
The women’s quarters are also up tomorrow and the highlight is a showdown between divas Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Serena, who beat Caroline Wozniacki today, has been dominant on the clay this year while Sharapova, who calls herself a “cow on ice” on clay, has also been playing well – she just won Stuttgart. Given the slick courts I think I’ll lean to Serena in this one. Serena’s the better mover and has the edge in power.
“She’s been playing really well and has the upper hand going into tomorrow’s match with so much momentum in winning in Stuttgart,” Williams said of Maria who she leads 7-2. “I’m going out there with nothing to lose and that’s always a good position to be in.”
As for the topic of the day/week, the blue clay, it’s safe to say this will be the last week we see it. The risks far outweigh the rewards in this case – and the reward really was only a better fan viewing experience which wasn’t under scrutiny on red clay. So with Nadal and Djokovic both talking boycott and with the other complaints it’s a safe bet the blue is toast for next year. The tournament and Ian Tiriac had their one chance and they…Blue it.
Personally, I’m OK with the courts being blue, but it’s not right that they are playing this dissimilar to the French Open. That’s not fair to players and that’s really why this tournament will likely have little bearing on what we’ll see later this month from the men in Paris. And that’s too bad because the event has an incredible field with potential still for many more great matchups. But in the end it will all feel just a little hollow.
Tennis Channel has complete coverage starting at 7am ET. Women’s quarterfinals at 5pm ET on tape.
FRIDAY MADRID SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 10:50 am
 V Azarenka (BLR) vs  N Li (CHN) – WTA
 S Williams (USA) vs  M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA
Not Before 3:30 PM
 T Berdych (CZE) vs  F Verdasco (ESP) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  J Tipsarevic (SRB) – ATP
 R Federer (SUI) vs  D Ferrer (ESP) – ATP
STADIUM 3 start 1:00 pm
 J Del Potro (ARG) vs  A Dolgopolov (UKR) – ATP
Not Before 4:00 PM
 A Radwanska (POL) vs [Q] V Lepchenko (USA) – WTA
 S Stosur (AUS) vs [Q] L Hradecka (CZE) – WTA
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