Rafael Nadal knows what it feels like to be beaten by an underdog in the semi-final of the Australian Open.
Friend and foe fears for Nadal
Rafael Nadal knows what it feels like to be beaten by an underdog in the semi-final of the Australian Open. He was a victim at the hands of a punishing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last year. This year, however, he will face Fernando Verdasco - who yesterday beat the Frenchman Tsonga 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-3 6-2 - in the last four.
Predictably, the world No 1 is wary of his fellow Spaniard and Davis Cup teammate. And after watching Verdasco, 25, beat world No 4 Andy Murray in the fourth round and his quarter- final triumph Tsonga in Melbourne, Nadal is expecting a great deal more from his friend when they meet at the Rod Laver Arena tomorrow. "It's always good to play against a Spanish player in the semi-finals of a grand slam," Nadal said yesterday after beating the Frenchman Gilles Simon in straight sets.
"It's very good news for us because one player is going to be in the final. "But Fernando is playing at his best level. I've never played against him when he has been playing at the level he is right now because I think he has never played at this level before. He has beaten Murray and beaten Tsonga. "Sometimes in the past he made some mistakes at important moments and he lost a little bit of concentration. But right now he's changed that.
"I saw his two matches against Murray and Tsonga. He was very focused all the time and knew what he wanted to do all the time, so it will be very tough," added Nadal, who has progressed to the last four without dropping a set for the second successive year but still believes he has things he can work on. "I think I have more things that I can do than a few years ago. I can slice a little bit more, I can go a little bit more to the net and I am playing a little bit better inside the court," he said.
"Those are the things that I am improving, or trying to improve. The serve, I improved, but for sure, I need to improve more." Whether or not Simon would agree with that is debatable after he lost 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 in their quarter-final under a closed roof at the Rod Laver Arena. Simon had several chances throughout the match to break the Spaniard's serve - including a set point in the second set - but could not always make them count.
In the first set he was broken in the first, fifth and seventh games as he found himself firing too wide, too long or into the net because of the pressure of trying to play catch-up. Earlier,Verdasco, the 14th seed revealed the come-from-behind Davis Cup win against Argentina's Jose Acasuso, which clinched the trophy for Spain in November had been a defining moment as far as his tennis was concerned.
"The Davis Cup, it changed my life so much and gave me a lot of confidence. It mentally made me much stronger for these matches here - the five-set matches and the pressure because it's a grand slam," he said. "That tie in Argentina made me grow up a lot, I think, as a tennis player." Since that success he has also spent two weeks in Las Vegas working with Andre Agassi's former fitness guru Gil Reyes and getting the opportunity for a two-hour chat with the former world No 1 as well.
That preparation and advice has seen him hit the ground running this year. He got through to the final in the Australian Open warm-up event in Brisbane before arriving in Melbourne and he has now beaten two of the top five seeds - Britain's Murray in the fourth round and now Tsonga. "What I'm thinking right now is that I'm playing good. I'm feeling good and I'm in semi-finals. "I'm feeling good and I just want to go out there for first time in the semi-finals in a grand slam and enjoy that moment."