NEW YORK (Reuters) - Long before the first ball was struck at this year’s U.S. Open, most tennis fans were pretty sure a Spanish left-hander would reach the men’s semi-finals.
And they were right. The forecasters were vindicated even before the quarter-finals were played, but it may not be the man everyone was thinking of since two Spanish lefthanders have been drawn to face each other.
Rafa Nadal, the world number one, is through and playing some of the best tennis of his life but faces an opponent that could be the closest thing to a mirror image of himself in Fernando Verdasco, the eighth seed.
The pair are great friends who teamed up to help their country win the Davis Cup last year and know each other’s games so well that there are no surprises for either of them.
Nadal is the overwhelming favorite to win Thursday night’s clash at Arthur Ashe Stadium after succeeding in each of their 10 previous clashes but is no sure thing if their last meeting on a hardcourt is any guide.
That was in the semi-finals of the Australian Open last year, which Nadal won in a five-set struggle that lasted over five hours before going on to capture the title.
“He has all the shots and he’s playing very well,” Nadal said. “It’s gonna be a very interesting match. I have to play aggressive to play well.”
Nadal has never won the U.S. Open but looks to have his best chance this year. The top seed is in great form, winning his first four matches without dropping a single service game.
Verdasco has done it the hard way. Only one of his four wins came in straight sets and two went the distance, including his epic fourth-round clash with 10th seed David Ferrer that was decided by a fifth set tiebreak he said he hopes will bring him confidence for the Nadal match.
“Everybody knows that he’s number one in the world, he’s great player,” said Verdasco. “My record is not good against him. But I will keep trying and keep fighting to make the first time here.”
Thursday’s other quarter-final, to be played on center court during the afternoon, involves two unlikely opponents, Russia’s Mikhael Youzhny and Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka.
Youzhny, seeded 12th, is the favorite after reaching the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows four years ago while Wawrinka, seeded 25th, is playing in his first grand slam quarter-final.
Wawrinka, who teamed up with Roger Federer to win a gold medal in doubles at the Beijing Olympics, pulled off the biggest upset of the championship when he beat Andy Murray in the third round but it took a toll on his body.
He followed up with a grueling five set win over Sam Querrey in the fourth round but has been struggling with a leg injury, raising concerns about his fitness heading into his clash with Youzhny.
“It’s gonna be difficult for me. I will see how I‘m gonna be with my leg and how I can rest for Thursday, but I will be focused more on myself than him,” Wawrinka said.
Editing by Frank Pingue