Humble Pie

Monte Carlo Masters 1000, Second Round

Robredo d. Verdasco, 6/4 6/3

Almagro d. M Gonzalez, 6/7 7/5 7/6

By losing today to Tommy Robredo – and the scoreboard does the flaccidity of the loss scant justice – Fernando Verdasco has departed the top ten for the first time in a year, falling to No.13, his lowest ranking in two. Given the volume of points he must defend before Roland Garros, it’s unlikely he’ll be back soon. More immediately, the yearned-for rematch with Milos Roanic will also have to wait, although given Verdasco’s form, he has potentially avoided the biggest serving of humble pie since Yevgeny Kafelnikov promised Lleyton Hewitt a ‘tough lesson’ in the 1999 Davis Cup semifinal, before going down in straight sets. I poke fun at Verdasco almost constantly, but only because vanity this extravagant invites contempt, and even the roughest barbs adhere readily to his haircut. It is also hard to escape the conclusion that he has grown far too preoccupied with the life of a pro tennis player, forgetting that at its core lies the sport of tennis. Nevertheless, I generally enjoy his interviews, which can prove more thoughtful and circumspect than one might otherwise anticipate.

Those concerned that Verdasco’s departure will leave a critical imbalance in the number of over-groomed Spaniards at the top of the men’s game will find relief in the news that Nicolas Almagro on the very cusp of the premier ten. He’s been thereabouts for a while, and today’s result suggested the definitive push will not be easy. Verdasco’s precipitous departure naturally created a vacuum at the top, augmenting the one created when Roddick fell, but Almagro will still have to earn it. Gonzales (Maximo) served for the match at 5/4 in the third, and moved to 40-0. Even the dullard commentator surmised that Almagro was in some trouble. Nonetheless, he somehow broke back. The final tiebreak was not without its hiccups, but terribly dramatic despite – or because of – the uneven quality.

My cherished belief is that Almagro is the best claycourter in the world until the better ones show up, and he got on board with that assessment by winning everything in South America until David Ferrer beat him in Acapulco. I also said that the trick will be to maintain his form in Europe, and to continue beating those he should. Today he did that, but he gave his supporters a scare. A 12-10 win in the deciding tiebreak is better than a loss, no question, but such wins can prove Pyrrhic on the road to Paris. They add up. As Almagro’s ranking rises, the number of better dirtballers above him shrinks, and the matches he is expected to win grow tougher. He’ll need his energy.

Edit: Almagro today went down to new No.8 Jurgen Melzer in straight sets, which means he’ll be stranded at No.11 on Monday. On his strongest surface, Melzer is exactly the kind of player Almagro needs to beat to establish himself as a bone fide top ten player. The Spaniard will doubtless get there next week in Barcelona, guaranteeing questions about the validity of his ranking, questions that would have been less pointed if his ascension came following a deep run at a Masters event.

The Robredo-Verdasco match can be downloaded here, along with others form the early rounds of Monte Carlo.

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