Fernando Verdasco, Secret Star?

Spain’s Fernando Verdasco is the mystery man of the men’s draw. All the other guys looking at the quarterfinals have a line about them–they’re Grand Slam winners, or finalists, or wildly talented up-and-comers, or they dated Martina Hingis (Radek Stepanek)–but there’s no read on Verdasco.

That may well change this tournament. Novak Djokovic had difficulty dispatching journeyman Jesse Witten in the third round, and even though he easily beat Radek Stepanek in the fourth, he should be considered vulnerable to a player like 25-year-old Verdasco, who was admirably consistent and smart yesterday, ending–4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4–the Open run of John Isner, the 6’9″ American who upset Andy Roddick on Saturday. Isner didn’t play badly, but the left-handed Verdasco seemed unfazed by his height, pounding the American’s weaker backhand side, and, most importantly, returning well enough to neutralize Isner’s huge serve, holding him to 13 aces (as opposed to 38 against Roddick).

We were the only English-language journalists at his post-match press conference. When we asked about his solid performance today compared to his spottier third-round win over Tommy Haas, he said, “I don’t really know. Some days you have better days than on others, like everybody. Today I think just in the beginning of the first set I start out a little bit cold, a little bit afraid. Then after I saw that he was playing good, I just saw that I really needed to push more. So I started to do it. And I started playing really good I think. So my feelings are good. Problems for the serve sometimes, the pain I had. I’m so happy to be in quarterfinals and I will try my best no matter how much pain I have.”

As for his opponent in the quarters, he said, “Djokovic is a great player and he is so tough but anyone in the quarterfinals will be tough. I don’t really care about who I’m playing with. I will try to recover this day and a half, try to be the best I can be.”

2009 is his breakout year–he took Nadal to five sets in an epic semifinal at the Australian Open–and this may well be his breakout tournament. We’re all for it.

Fernando Verdasco, Secret Star?