Fernando’s pre-tournament presser from February 1, 2011:
JIM SPARACO: I want to say good morning to everybody and thanks for joining us for today’s call with defending SAP Open champion Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco will be coming to the SAP Open for only the second time in his career. He is currently No. 9 in the ATP World Tour rankings.
Last year, Verdasco used an overpowering serve late in the third set to defeat three-time Andy Roddick to become the first Spaniard to capture the tournament single’s championship since Manuel Santana did so in 1964.
Verdasco, who is a second-ranked Spanish player on the ATP World Tour has captured five singles titles in his career.
Before we open it up for questions, I’ll introduce tournament director Bill Rapp.
BILL RAPP: Good morning, everyone. Fernando, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to join us and thanks to the media on the call.
Fernando, you came to the SAP Open last year for the first time and you won the title here. What were your impressions of San Jose, the fans, the court surface, and what was your overall experience here?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, for me it was an unbelievable experience to be there for the first time and win the tournament. Also the atmosphere and the crowd were amazing, no, not only in the final but during all the matches.
I think there were also very many Spanish people over there in San Jose. I saw like many Latin people over there supporting me. So it was like much easier for me to feel all the people there. Of course, it was great, no, to win the title there, and to play against Pete before the tournament.
It was a great week for me and I’m so happy to be back this year.
BILL RAPP: Fernando, I spoke to Pete last week. He said he’s still a little angry at you for pounding him so bad.
FERNANDO VERDASCO: No, I don’t think so (laughter).
BILL RAPP: This year we have a strong field of players including Monfils, Del Potro, Hewitt, Fish, Querrey, and many more. What do you know about these players and how difficult will it be for you to defend your title?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, for sure is going to be very hard, no? They are all very good players. I know them all very good. I know that it’s going to be really hard, no, to defend my title over there.
But, you know, it’s going to be nice to come back there after winning last year. Always when you come back to a tournament that you won the year before, it’s always good feelings, great feelings on the court, and in the tournament. I hope all the experiences that I lived last year there playing really good help me this year to try to do it again really good and try to defend my title.
BILL RAPP: We understand you’re teaming up with Lleyton Hewitt to play doubles. How did that come about?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: It was I was in Melbourne. His physio, Ivan, is also one of the physios at the Australian Open. So he told me if I was going to San Jose and Memphis. I said, Yes. He told, the same like Lleyton. I said, Really? So we start talking. He was also doing treatment for me there on my ankle during the two weeks, the week before the tournament, then the week and a half after the tournament. Actually we were talking. Ivan told me, Well, maybe you can both play doubles in one of the tournaments. I said, Yeah, for sure. I didn’t play doubles last year in San Jose or Memphis.
With Lleyton, I think it will be a great experience to play with him. For sure it’s going to be fun.
BILL RAPP: Thanks, Fernando.
JIM SPARACO: Since Fernando is going to be playing the tournament in Memphis, as well, we have tournament director Peter Lebedevs.
Peter, did you want to welcome Fernando and the Memphis media to your tournament.
PETER LEBEDEVS: I’d like to welcome Fernando to jumping in on the call and taking the time out of his schedule and for the local media.
Fernando, we’re excited to have you back in Memphis. I think your first year was last year in our event. I know our crowd was very close on the court, you had a great time in San Jose, then coming to our court.
Can you tell us the difference of how close the people were in Memphis, what you felt of that stadium court?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, I think that last year for sure I remember I was in the tournament in San Jose, I won the tournament, and I was with problems with my leg coming from the sciatic nerve. I was working all week with the physio in San Jose, making treatment three, four hours a day. I won the tournament, but also I came to Memphis and I was a little bit tired. I didn’t have too much time also, just one afternoon, to practice in Memphis, to get used to the court, to the balls, because they are different.
I also played against Chardy. He’s a player that serves really good. He was like really, really good that day. So I had my chances in the first set, but he played well and deserved to win.
For me it was hard to lost that match because I really wanted to do really good, much better in Memphis. So hopefully this year I will come back to Memphis with more time and be able to get used to the court and the balls better, make a much better tournament.
Also it was great to be there, even if I didn’t win matches. But I’m happy to come back and, like I said, hopefully I will play much better and win more matches.
PETER LEBEDEVS: We appreciate you coming back. The fans are very excited. That’s why we have you playing Wednesday, to make sure you have time to get used to the stadium court. Our fans are only 64 feet away, so they’re real close. We have you Wednesday night and look forward to you doing very well in Memphis.
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Thank you so much. For sure, like you said, the crowd is really close compared to another tournaments. Like, for example, San Jose is a very big stadium. The conditions were different than Memphis. For me, playing in Memphis, the conditions of having the people so close, the court how it was, you know, I’m a Spaniard, so I need sometimes a little bit more space on the baseline to play my game. I was a little bit feeling like I was inside the cage over there with not too much space to move around.
But, like I said, hopefully this year I will have more time to get used to this stadium court and play much better.
PETER LEBEDEVS: We appreciate it. Not sure if we have more space behind the court, but we have more time for you to get ready.
JIM SPARACO: We’ll open it up to questions now for Fernando.
Q. You’re obviously familiar with Novak Djokovic’s game, having beaten him the last two times you guys have faced. Outside of that first win that he had in Australia, really for a long time he was odd-man-out behind Federer, Nadal, struggled with conditioning, couldn’t quite break through. Now that he’s won his second slam and the field seems to be opening up a little bit, do you see him as somebody who can break through and get to No. 1?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, I think that he have the game. He was close to be No. 1 already. I don’t remember exactly, but maybe like one and a half years ago, something like that. I think, like I said, he have the game. He was just really close.
For sure he can be No. 1. He’s young and he has a great game. I think that after winning Australia, Davis Cup gave him extra power for him like mentally, psychologically, and physically to go to Australia and win his second Grand Slam, no?
I think, like for me two years ago when I won in Argentina, that helped me to jump into the top 10. I think this Davis Cup helped him to win this second Grand Slam, no?
Before the tournament, I was telling my group, like my dad, my cousin, my fitness coach, that he was going to be for me the favorite of the Australian Open. So I was right and he won the tournament.
I think, like you said, for sure he can be No. 1 sooner or later.
Q. What makes him so dangerous as a player?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: I think, you know, he have all the strikes. But for sure maybe his most powerful weapons are his return. He’s one of the most dangerous guys when he return. Also his backhand is like one of the best by far in the ATP Tour. He’s getting much more like defending, stretching, taking really difficult balls.
Like before was Rafa, for example, that was returning all those balls that was impossible to get. Now Novak is doing that, too. I saw him covering the court at the Australian Open unbelievable, like making you feel the court really small, making the other players to try to push more and make more mistakes because of that, no?
I think he have these weapons for sure his best. Also he improve his serve compared to last year when he was struggling a little bit with double-faults and losing a little bit his serve. Now he got the serve again.
I think he’s with big confidence right now. After winning the Davis Cup, he got big confidence and came to Australia like really, really confident of his game, and that’s why he won the tournament this year.
Q. I was going to ask you about the success of tennis in Spain. You have three top-10 players: yourself, Rafa and Ferrer. What has led to that extraordinary success in recent years?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, that’s a question that they ask me already many times. It’s hard to know exactly why. I don’t really have the answer for that. I think that it’s just a period in history right now that we have not only good tennis players, but also athletes. I think in Spain we are right now in the best period of sport in history, like winning the World Cup in soccer that we never did before, in basketball, in Formula One, in cycling, in tennis. In almost every sport we are doing unbelievable. I think it is just, I don’t know, something of history. It’s tough to know. It’s tough to know.
In tennis, just speaking about tennis, I think that Spain had like really good players in the last – at least what I remember – 20 years: Moya, Ferrero, Corretja, Berasategui, Bruguera. In that years, maybe the ’90s, they were only more like clay court players. But also the hard court tournaments were much more faster than now. Maybe the Spanish players, they were not serving as good as maybe all the, like, U.S. players or French players or German players or Croatian players in that age.
But now that the hard courts, even the grass court, they are slower, I think that’s why Spanish players, they are winning much more matches in all the surface, and that’s why we have more players up there, like five players in the top 20, three players in the top 10, many players in the top 100, no?
All the courts are getting slower. That helps the Spanish players, you know, to win more matches and be more in the top.
Q. Are there more young Spanish tennis players coming up?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, right now, if I need to say, I know a few like junior players. One of them, Javier Marti, he’s 19 years old, from Madrid, or Beluga (phonetic), he was winning almost everything when he was young. But from that point to be a professional – not only professional – but to become a top-20 or top-10 player is a huge difference. Is tough to say if they can be, no?
But I think in few years, Spain maybe will not have the players that they have right now. Right now I think, like I said, it’s unbelievable what we have, no? With Rafa No. 1, David No. 6, also me No. 9, the other players like Almagro, Feliciano, Ferrero was injured for the last months, but many players like Robredo, Montañes, many others. It’s going to be hard to have all those players in, I don’t know, maybe eight or ten years. I don’t think there will be that many players.
Hopefully it will be the same or more, but is tough, no, because is not always easy to have all the good players at the same time together. I think that happens in all the countries, no? I think the U.S. in the ’90s, they have Sampras, Agassi, Chang, maybe three or four top 10s, and now they have one. The same happens with France. The same happened with Sweden. It’s like all periods, no? It’s always changing. It’s hard to be all the time with many players in the top.
Q. Fernando, could you talk about how popular Rafa and tennis are in Spain. Can you compare it to anything in the United States?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, I don’t really know how is in the United States. What I saw at the U.S. with Tennis Channel, knowing or watching how famous Andy or Mardy or Sam or John, all these players can be there. It’s pretty big. I don’t know because I’m not an American player, and they don’t know me that much over there.
But in Spain is becoming really big tennis. Rafa made it very big, for sure, winning all these Grand Slams and all these titles he did. But also like all the other players after Rafa, like winning the four Davis Cups in 10 years, all the tournaments that all the other players also won in the last years, I think that made Spain like really into it with tennis, no?
I think that is, like I said, becoming really big. Everybody follows more tennis. It’s great, no? It’s great to see that the people is watching tennis, following tennis. TV also is making programs about tennis, not like Tennis Channel, but close, no? Like I said, is nice to see that the people is following more tennis and practicing more tennis in all the cities around Spain.
Q. Is tennis No. 2 in Spain behind soccer?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Yeah, well, it’s tough, no? In Spain, for sure soccer is number one. It’s tough to say. I don’t really know if it’s number two tennis. Basketball also is very big. But I think it’s number two or number three. I think basketball and tennis must be really close. I don’t know exactly, but I think it’s the number two and number three for sure.
Q. You spoke about the good feelings you got in San Jose as defending champion. What will motivate you to win the SAP Open again?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: I am so happy, no, to be back. I will try my best to try to win my title again, the title I won last year. I know that it’s going to be hard. There are many good players. But I will just try to go there and try to play good tennis and be happy and enjoy the tournament like I did last year.
Q. Your performance in the Australian Open was very impressive considering you were playing on a broken ankle. How did you play through all the pain and how are you feeling today?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, it was really hard, no, for me because I’ve been working so hard in Las Vegas this pre-season trying to get in Australia with the best shape as possible. I don’t know, but maybe I overpracticed, no? I worked so hard. I came to Australia. I played Brisbane. I started feeling pain in my leg. I started doing treatment. For all the week in Brisbane, I didn’t feel any better.
So, you know, I also played in Kooyong. My first match against Monfils, I was really feeling painful. I did an MRI and they told me that it was like inflammation in the bone, part of the bone was broken. It was not like very good news for me before start a Grand Slam.
Not only that, no? The hardest part was the pain, no? You can have a broken bone or part of the bone broken or inflammation, whatever, but if you don’t have pain, doesn’t matter. But it was really painful some days. It was hard for me, no, to play like that.
It was hard because also I was doing tapes all the time to my ankles to try to get this pain away. These tapes, they were so hard to try to get the pain. Because it was so hard, they were also doing me blisters, cutting me, the Achilles tendon, for example, in the Berdych match. So it was all problems.
I’ve been really sad, no, to have all these problems. I was supposed to go straight back to California after Australia, but I decide to come back to Madrid and see with all the doctors here, do all the tests and everything I need and recover, to try to be a hundred percent for San Jose.
I’ve been doing all that. Looks like I feel much better. I have the last MRI tomorrow morning to see my ankle after all these days of treatment and recovery, and hopefully is going to be good and they will tell me it’s good to start practicing harder and be ready for the tournament next week.
Q. You played some dramatic five-set matches lately, whether it was Tipsarevic in Melbourne, Ferrer in New York. What is about those matches that boost your confidence when you get through them?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, all that matches, when you come back from two sets to love down, you finish the match winning, they are great, no? They are unbelievable. They give you big confidence.
Mentally is great, no? It makes you be much stronger and makes you believe more since the last ball in the match that you can win, no? If you never do it before, it’s harder. But the time you do it one time, it’s like everything. Once you do it one time, you believe you can do it more times.
Now for me in the Grand Slams, even when I’m two sets to love down, I still belive that I can come back and win the match. It was great, the match against Tipsarevic, how I saved the match points and came back and won the match finally. It was great feeling and I was so happy to win that match.
Q. I know you talked earlier about how the 2008 Davis Cup win inspired you, why it led to you picking Novak to win the Australian Open. In what way did leading Spain to win the Davis Cup a few years ago inspire you?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, for me I always said that Davis Cup was like a point of inflection for me, like I became a completely new player after that. I believed in myself much more.
You know, I think right now tennis is big-time mentally. When you became a better mental player, you became a better player.
When I won that Davis Cup, you know, that gave me big confidence. After that, I went to Australia and I did the semifinals. I maybe played my best tennis in all my life.
I think that with Novak happens the same this year. He won that Davis Cup playing unbelievable, the two matches that he played. You know all that feelings, all that emotions that he lived for sure there makes him much better player, and that help him for sure big-time to go to Australia and win the title there.
Q. Fernando, how has working with Agassi and Reyes helped you? What do you feel you need to do to take the next step and win a Grand Slam title?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, I always said that working with Gil and with Andre and with Darren Cahill also, with all three, helped me so much. They are persons that they help me to become also a better player. That’s why I’m still going to Las Vegas many times a year.
For example, the hardest time for me to go there is Christmas, in December, during Christmas. All my family is at home and I’m still going there to be working there with Gil and with Andre and Darren. I think it’s good for me and I feel good when I go to the tournaments after being in Vegas.
Gil is a person, like I said many times, he made me stronger player, but not only physically, mentally he’s also a great trainer. We speak about many things, many experience that he had with Andre. That also helped me to have more motivation, more experience, be more angry to try to win titles, big titles, hopefully to be able to win a Grand Slam or Masters Series or both very soon.
Q. Did you spend this past Christmas in Las Vegas?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Yes.
Q. Fernando, what can some of the people who have never been to a tournament, especially some of the younger audience members, what can they expect from this year’s championship in Memphis?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Well, I think for all the young people, I for sure know that maybe you are young, you like tennis so much, or is more for older people, maybe after the 25, no? So like maybe if they go, and I invite them for sure to come because they will enjoy it for sure, the tournament. Why not come one time? If they’ve never been in a tennis tournament, just to see the atmosphere, for sure they will not be disappointed. Maybe they will like it to be the first experience. There will become a few tennis fans and maybe they will be more into tennis.
That’s why I want to invite everybody there in Memphis to come to the tournament and meet us over there, all the players. For sure they will enjoy so much and maybe they will get into tennis much more.
Q. Your thoughts on Monfils in terms of how rare on tour is his combination of speed and athleticism and shot-making?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: About Monfils?
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Yeah, well, I think that he’s an unbelievable athlete. His way to play is unbelievable. He’s unbelievably elastic. He get balls. He’s like sliding all the time in hard courts like it was a clay court. It’s hard to believe and hard to see even for us that he can be sliding all the time in that kind of surface, like Australia, for example, one of the grippiest courts on the tour.
He’s a great person also. I have a very good relation with him. I think also he’s a player if he’s regular and constant all year, he can be fighting for sure to be a top-10 player at the end of the year. He have a good serve. He cover many court because he moves so fast.
Like I said, is maybe the most elastic player on the tour. With Novak, I think they are the most. But Monfils, he has the arms and legs longer, and he’s so fast.
I think that, you know, he’s an unbelievable athlete and he can be a very good player this year on the way that I saw him starting this year in Australia.
JIM SPARACO: I’d like to thank all the media who joined us on today’s call. Fernando, thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you not only in San Jose but in Memphis, as well.
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Of course, I will see you soon.
JIM SPARACO: Thank you very much.
FERNANDO VERDASCO: Thank you so much, everyone.