While many players have opted to reside in Dubai, be it for tax reasons or to make use of the good weather and practice facilities, Fernando Verdasco has chosen Doha as his new residence, where he believes many opportunities are available to him, including ones for his post-tennis career.
The Spaniard, who reached his first quarter-final in five appearances at the Qatar Open thanks to a straight-sets win over David Goffin on Wednesday, has been spending a lot of time in Doha and is pleased to be a resident of the Gulf state.
“It was because (there are) many opportunities for me here, not even now as a tennis player, also in the future,” Verdasco told Sport360 on why he chose the Qatari capital to be his second home.
“Everybody I know here, they treat me unbelievable for many years already and I’m very happy to have the friends I have here. I enjoy it so much, they treat me as a Qatari. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time here.
Verdasco, a former No7 who is now down to No42 in the world, had a 0-4 record in Qatar Open second rounds prior to his 6-1, 7-6 (6) upset victory over the fourth-seeded Goffin on Wednesday.
“Every time I came here I enjoyed it so much. First time was my second year as a pro, in 2005, and I lost in the second round, then against Nadal. This is the third time in a row coming, two years ago I lost to Ferrer, last year I lost to Djokovic and this year I had Goffin in the second round and I’ve been finally able to reach the quarter-finals,” said the 33-year-old Verdasco.
“I enjoy always my time in Doha, I have many friends here. Of course now spending much more time than before. I love it because it’s a really calm city, the weather is always nice, sometimes very hot in the summer, but I like the heat.
“I came here in July, September, October, November… so almost every month. It’s really a relaxing time for me here in between tournaments and when it’s not too hot it’s nice to practice also. Sometimes it’s too windy but it’s also good to get used to it.”
Does his move to Doha signal perhaps he is already planning for his post-tennis future?
“Maybe, you never know. For the moment I don’t know how many years I will be playing, hopefully a lot because I enjoy it a lot, but why not? It’s an opportunity and it’s a chance for me to have… here you have beIN Sports, you have tennis academies, you have many things that could work for me after tennis,” admits the Madrileño, who has been actively promoting the city through several posts on social media.
Goffin became the highest-ranked casualty of the tournament as he succumbed to a bout of the flu and Verdasco’s aggressive game.
Verdasco had failed to serve out the match twice and squandered five match points before he finally overcame the Belgian world No11.
The Spaniard grabbed the first set in 29 minutes and when he broke midway through the second, it looked like he was on his way to a routine win.
An inch-perfect lob gave Verdasco a first match point but an aggressive Goffin rushed the net to save it.
Serving for the match, Verdasco fell behind 15-40 and Goffin broke with a forehand winner that painted the line and saw him draw level at 5-5.
The Spaniard regained his advantage immediately though, breaking Goffin with a forehand passing shot to once again get into the position to serve for the victory at 6-5.
But Goffin had other ideas, saving a second match point before breaking serve on his fourth chance of the game to force a tiebreak.
A forehand error from Goffin saw Verdasco lead 4-2 in the breaker. Two more match points escaped Verdasco but he finally closed out the clash on his sixth opportunity when Goffin sent a backhand long.
“It was not easy today, it was tough to breathe, I didn’t have a lot of energy tonight. It was not easy for me to breathe but in the end I fought in the second set and even if I had the flu, I think I had to take this second set and maybe in the third set it would have been much better. At the end, I had a lot of opportunities in the second set and I had to take them,” said a disappointed Goffin, who looked flat and out of sorts – a stark contrast to the energetic, explosive Belgian who reached the Abu Dhabi final last Saturday, beating Andy Murray en route.
“He played really well, it was tough to make a winner here in the slow conditions so he was quite solid, he has a lot of power in his forehand and his serve, it was not easy to counter him.”
The temperature had dropped significantly in Doha on Wednesday which made for slower conditions.
“It was already slow two days ago and today it was much slower because of the lower temperatures and with the wind it was not easy, it was from the side. It wasn’t easy conditions. Of course it’s a pity to lose this one, but next time,” added Goffin.
The 26-year-old was making his Doha debut and next heads to Melbourne where he’ll take part in an exhibition in Kooyong before the Australian Open.
Asked if he would reconsider starting the season in Doha next season and prefer to go elsewhere, Goffin said: “It’s a really nice tournament, it’s perfect. I think it’s very different if you compare it to the conditions in Australia. In Australia it’s hot, and the ball, is not flying, but the conditions are faster than here, so it’s quite different.
“So we’ll see. I like this tournament, it was nice to be here but we’ll see now the transition between Doha and Melbourne. If I can play good tennis there, then why not come back here?”
On his part, Verdasco, who faces Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals on Thursday, was pleased with his own resilience.
“It was tough, but I kept trying and I kept fighting and I finally did it. It was important to finish in two sets because if not then third set we would be starting from zero and everything could change,” he said.
For someone who was ranked in the top-10 and has reached a grand slam semi-final (Australian Open 2009), it must be hard adapting to life outside the top-40.
Asked how he plans on making his way back up the rankings, Verdasco said: “It’s not easy, when you lose your ranking, it’s not easy to come back because you have the top players in the first and second rounds so it’s tough to pass that and to get more points.
“But you know, at the end the key is to keep fighting, even if you fall, just try to get up as soon possible, keep working hard, practicing hard, and trying your best in competitions.
“Sometimes things don’t come the way you want, sometimes you have to fight so hard, as I did for example today in the second, and at the end, these are the kind of matches that help you to get the confidence, get the rhythm and to be able to get back with a better ranking.”
World No1 Andy Murray and No2 Novak Djokovic took contrasting routes to reach the Qatar Open quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Murray laboured for two hours and 23 minutes and was on the receiving end of 38 winners from Austrian world No68 Gerald Melzer before he came through 7-6 (6), 7-5. At the net, Murray praised the 26-year-old’s game, saying: “If you keep playing like this, you’ll go higher and higher in the rankings.”
Djokovic on the other hand swept aside his opponent, Argentina’s world No71 Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 in 71 minutes to set up a quarter-final against his good friend, the 38-year-old Radek Stepanek.
After the customary handshake at the net, Zeballos picked up his bags then stopped by Djokovic’s bench on his way out of the stadium to take a selfie with the Serb.
“It was quite nice. I mean, nice surprise. I never experienced that in, let’s say, official tournament. Quite a creative idea,” Djokovic said of Zeballos’ bizarre move.
Eehhh sorryy. Creo que tengo la mejor selfie del dia jejeje. Que groso Nole.un genio!! Y yo figuretiiii.. Me encanto!! pic.twitter.com/lMXDqKdcyl— horacio zeballos (@HoracioZeballos) January 4, 2017
“I think today’s selfie is a nice example about how one person and a player can leave whatever behind is behind. It was just minute or two after we shook hands. He was already over his lost match and he moved into doing something different. I applaud him for that. I think it was a really nice gesture.”
Murray’s kind words for Melzer after their clash was also a nice gesture but it came after almost two and a half hours of sheer battle.
Melzer, a lefty like his older tennis-playing brother Jurgen, produced some explosive shots that left Murray confounded at times.
The Austrian drew first blood but Murray broke right back before he opened up a 4-2 gap. Melzer pegged him back and the set went to a tiebreak.
An unforgiveable overhead miss saw Melzer trail 0-3 and Murray sped to a 6-2 lead with multiple opportunities to close out the set. But Melzer caught up, drawing level at 6-all with some inconceivable forehand winners and in total saved eight set points. He faltered on the ninth though as Murray finally wrapped up the opening set in one hour and 18 minutes.
The top seed broke serve in the seventh game of the second when he ran down a Melzer drop shot and responded with a backhand passing shot winner for a 4-3 lead.
Murray held at love and quickly got his hands on two match points on Melzer’s serve.
But Melzer saved both to hold serve then broke Murray as he was serving for the match to make it 5-all.
It angered Murray and the Scot quickly went up 0-40 in the next game but Melzer saved all three break points. An outrageous mis-hit from Melzer gave Murray a fourth opening and this time the world No1 converted to lead 6-5.
Serving for the match for a second time, Murray finally completed the win with a service winner on his third match point of the contest to set up a quarter-final date with Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. It was Murray’s 26th consecutive victory.
“I thought he was excellent. He moved well. His intensity throughout the whole match was great. His level didn’t drop at all and he was really aggressive,” Murray said of the younger Melzer brother.
“As soon as you dropped the ball short or in the middle of the court he was going for it off both sides. He wasn’t afraid to come forward either. He moved forward a lot. Maybe didn’t volley as well as he would’ve liked, but he was very, very aggressive and moved well. Yeah, he’s very, very good.”
Meanwhile, Stepanek became the oldest ATP quarter-finalist since Jimmy Connors in Halle in 1995 when he beat Belgian wildcard Arthur de Greef 6-3, 6-2. He returned to the court shortly after to win his doubles quarter-final alongside Vasek Pospisil.
The 38-year-old has already played six matches in Doha, two in singles qualifying, two in singles main draw, and two in doubles.
His next opponent, Djokovic, is in awe of him.
Asked about his thoughts on Stepanek reaching the singles quarter-finals, Djokovic quickly interrupted and said: “And semi-finals of doubles. Can’t forget about that, because he’s one of not many players on tour that keeps playing singles and doubles, and especially at his age, which is an incredible effort.
“I know Radek very well. He’s one of the best friends on the tour that I have. Great guy. Very interesting guy. He keeps on surprising everybody with his level of consistency in his game.
“I think more than anything is his dedication to the sport and willingness really to kind of discover new ways to get his body in the perfect shape. I think he’s very smart when it comes down to that. He knows exactly what his body needs from every point of view.”
Stepanek is a former world No8 who is now down to No107 in the world. He turned pro over two decades ago, in 1996, and he’s happy to be chasing Connors’ various age records.
“I think I beat Jonas Bjorkman they told me, in the US Open I was the second-oldest after Jimmy Connors winning a match in a slam, so it seems like I’ll be fighting Jimmy Connors on a couple of ends to change the history a bit,” Stepanek told Sport360.
“I always say that I don’t see the finish line. The finish line comes either if my body says no more, or if I wake up in the morning and I will feel that I don’t want to go and practice and do the stuff I love to do.”
Third-seeded Tomas Berdych, fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and sixth-seeded Ivo Karlovic all advanced to Thursday’s last-eight.
In one of the highest quality singles matches ever seen in the 29-year history of the event, Federer showed plenty of the class which has won him a record 17 Grand Slams, but couldn’t quite hold off the bold 19-year-old German.
Despite the result, Switzerland kept their hopes of reaching Saturday’s final alive with a 2-1 win over Germany -Belinda Bencic beating Andrea Petkovic in the women’s singles and then teaming with Federer to win the deciding mixed doubles.
The men’s singles was a classic battle between the old and the new, with Federer left to rue his failure to serve out the first set when leading 5-3.
In the end, two booming first serves from Zverev, the first teenager to make the top 20 since Novak Djokovic in 2006, closed out the match in front of a record Perth tennis crowd of 13,785.