Fernando Verdasco - the blue flame
There is a famous saying by Oscar Wilde that goes, “Consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.”
Although it might pass off as a little untrue and arrogant, it is a very true quote.
Sure, Federer’s legendary consistency doesn’t mean he is unimaginative. He is probably the most imaginative player. But then, this quote does not apply to immortals. It does apply to mortals.
Who would you consider a more imaginative player, one who reaches the fourth round of every Slam for 2 years, or one who reaches one final, a semi, a quarter and loses in the first round the rest of the time?
The ability to put in consistent results at the same level reflects a degree of comfort in your strengths, a degree of satisfaction with where you are. A degree of unimaginativeness.
Take for example David Ferrer. There is nothing magical about his game. Physically inferior to the other top players, Ferrer has found a formula for consistency on the big stages, and he sticks to it like a leech. His tireless grinding style and jet-speed coverage of the courts along with a tough-as-nails mentality have given him stunning results over the past few years. Stunning, consistent results. Ferrer is the epitome of consistency in tennis today – he plays at nearly the exact same level in every match, win or lose. Unimaginative? Definitely. But consistent? Even more so.
Spanish tennis has been the epitome of consistency over the past two decades. Spain churns out stars in a manner no other country can, producing top players with ridiculous regularity. There are two Spaniards in the top 10, three in the top 20, and eight in the top 50. Every Roland Garros since 2002, except two, have been won by Spaniards. Spain is simply the best country in tennis right now.
So, among this pantheon of greats from Spain, where do the mortals stand? Where do their accomplishments rank alongside legends like Nadal and Ferrero?
Sadly, they don’t rank very high. Players like Robredo, Almagro and Lopez would have been incredibly famous and popular if they were born in any other country, but having been born in Spain, this is the curse they have to deal with.
We can clearly see that there are two groups of tennis players from Spain – the greats (Nadal, Ferrer, Ferrero), and the mortals (Robredo, Almagro, Lopez).
There is one man who refuses to join either group, straddling them lazily. He has been great, he has done great things, but he refuses to do them repeatedly. He insists on jumping to the mortals group when he is bored with the greats group, and then insists on jumping back.
Fernando Verdasco is the king of inconsistency, and hence, according to Oscar Wilde, the king of imagination. Verdasco’s style of play is possibly the most exciting on tour, be it his 130 mph second serves hit right down-the-T, his incessant backhand slicing with oodles of side spin, his murderous forehand thrashing balls all over the court or his deft movements to the net and soft hands upon arriving there.
Fernando Verdasco embodies aggressive tennis in a way no other player does. Nearly every player rallies the ball around for a couple of shots before going in for the kill. Verdasco? Nope. Every point he plays, he tries to win immediately. He goes for the winner. Verdasco holds the world record for most winners in a match (excluding the Isner-Mahut epic). He hit 95 winners against Nadal in the Australian Open semifinal 2009, possibly one of the greatest matches of all-time for its pure shot-making quality.
Verdasco is akin to a blue flame; it is the brightest, shiniest and most potent flame when lit, but burns out very, very quickly, exhausting its fuel in seconds. It can easily catch fire again though, and illuminates the world for a few seconds before dying out.
His career has experienced dramatic highs and dramatic lows. The Australian Open semifinal is probably the high moment of his career, alongside his Davis Cup spoils and his run to the finals in 2010 at Monte Carlo. In such moments, his tennis is so beautiful to watch. It is breathtaking. His punishing left arm slaps the balls all around the court. His imaginative mind mixes in slices, drop shots and effective moon-balls all when required, and in these moments, he is truly a stunning player to watch.
But (there is always a but), Verdasco has rare moments like these. For most of his career, he has not done much. His flame has always been out, his tennis always inconsistent. The reason for these dips in his career is the law of averages. When you play that kind of attacking tennis without any restrictions, you’ll have some really great days and some really bad days. Verdasco is notorious for serving more double faults than aces, even though his ace count is very high. His unforced error count is usually twice his winner count, and watching him play in these moments makes you cringe and want to pull your eyes out.
Verdasco will probably not go down as one of Spain’s greatest players. But his tennis might just be Spain’s most beautiful.
Verdasco’s imagination, his fluidity, his give-it-your-all style has definitely won him one fan. Me. Such go-for-it tennis is rarer than a four-leaf clover in these days of mind-numbingly boring 40-shot baseline rallies. Such aggression is a beautiful thing to watch amidst the thousands of grinding, defensive players out there.
Verdasco’s tennis teaches us life lessons – go for it. Just do it. Just win. Don’t over-think anything, don’t play on the back foot. Live with fire and play with fire. Be the fire. Be the blue flame.