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Monday, June 22, 2009

Verdasco vanquishes Briton's challenge

Photo Titled Verdasco focusVerdasco focus
Sometimes it can seem that there is a gulf a mile wide between two players facing each other across the net. That was the case today when the number seven seed Fernando Verdasco saw off James Ward 6-1, 6-3, 6-4.

No doubt the mere experience of playing on No.1 Court will stand Ward in good stead, but Verdasco’s superior skill in every department left the British wild card brutally exposed.

Verdasco, an Australian Open semi-finalist this year, spelled out the pattern of the match in the opening game, where his swashbuckling strokeplay plundered an immediate break.

Ward, in his Grand Slam debut, was clearly feeling the nerves, struggling on his first serve. He sent an easy volley long before delivering a double fault for break point.

It was easy pickings for Verdasco, as he dismantled Ward’s game with horrible ease. The crowd did their best for the Briton, roaring him on when he mustered his first game point with the score at 0-4. He needed three attempts before he could convert the chance, but convert he did to an ovation. But his groundstrokes were drifting long, and 25-year-old Verdasco took the set at a brisk stroll 6-1.

The last time a British wild card defeated a seed at Wimbledon was a generation ago, when Nick Brown heroically saw off Goran Ivanisevic in 1991. Encouragingly Ward won his first Challenger title last month, at Sarasota, as a qualifier. But before this afternoon he had never faced a top 10 player before, with the highest-ranked player he has ever defeated being the world number 87 Victor Crivoi at Eastbourne last week.

True, both Verdasco and Ward are currently enjoying a career high in the world rankings, but there’s a big difference - Verdasco is at number seven while Ward is 220.

At 3-0 to Verdasco in the second, a voice from the crowd called out optimistically: “Come on, Ward! You’ve got him on the run!” Maybe it did some good, because Ward promptly held to love and then held again. He even notched up a break point to put the set back on serve, but Verdasco saved with an ace. Gaining confidence, Ward did not surrender his serve again, so the set had a more respectable appearance than the first, but Verdasco was well within his comfort zone.

Even so, Ward was now motoring. First he managed not to yield the opening game of the new set for the first time in the match. Then at 4-3 he held two points for a 5-3 lead and a chance to serve for the set. But Ward put the first in the net and Verdasco outplayed him for the second. The inevitable could be postponed no longer. Ward was tiring, and the Spaniard broke him in the next game before wrapping up the match in 90 minutes.

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