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Rediff.com  » Sports » Nadal primed to win battle of Spanish left-handers

Nadal primed to win battle of Spanish left-handers

January 30, 2009 10:40 IST

 Long before the first ball was hit in anger at this year's Australian Open, there was a general expectation the men's final would feature a Spanish left-hander.

That forecast is already assured of happening but it may not be the man everyone was thinking of after world number one Rafael Nadal set up a semi-final showdown with Fernando Verdasco.

Nadal is the overwhelming favourite to win Friday's match and advance to his first final at Melbourne Park but Verdasco presents some unusual problems for him.

The two friends are both Spanish, both are lefthanders and both beat French opponents in their quarter-finals.

Although three Spaniards -- Juan Gisbert, Andres Gimeno and Carlos Moya -- have contested the men's final, none of them won the Australian Open title.

Nadal is excited by the prospect of a fourth getting to the showpiece match this year.

"It is always good to play against another Spanish player in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam," Nadal said.

"It is very good news for us, one player is gonna be in the final."

The odds are heavily stacked in Nadal's favour. The 22-year-old has never lost to Verdasco, dropping just one solitary set in their previous six meetings.

But things have changed a lot since that meeting in Paris and Verdasco is now a much better player, thanks to a quirky twist of fate.

With an injured Nadal unavailable, Verdasco won the decisive rubber in Spain's Davis Cup final win over Argentina last year and the experience changed his life.

He travelled to Las Vegas to work with Andre Agassi's former trainer Gil Reyes and arrived in Australia brimming with confidence, beating Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on his way to the semi-finals.

TOUGHEST PLAYER

"I have never played against him when he's playing at the level he's at right now," Nadal said.

"Sometimes in the past he made mistakes at important moments and he lost a little bit of concentration.

"But right now he's changing these things. I saw his two matches against Tsonga and Murray.

"He was very focused all the time, knowing what he wants to do all the time so it is going to be very tough."

Verdasco has never played in a Grand Slam semi-final before but said he was not overawed by the occasion although he conceded he faced a huge task against Nadal.

"For me Rafa is the toughest player in five set matches," he said.

"I'm feeling pretty good and I just think that I can beat anyone.

"I'm playing with the best players in the world, of course, they are always tough matches, but I believe in myself that I can win that matches."

Verdasco is not the only one in great form. Nadal won the French Open and Wimbledon titles last year and has not put a foot wrong since arriving in Melbourne this season, winning all of his matches in straight sets.

"I feel that I am playing well," Nadal said.

"If I could play the same as all of last year, you give me a paper and I will sign it.

"The thing is I always (want) to improve. I have never lost this. I think I have few little things I can still do better."

Source:
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