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Fernando Verdasco, Tennis' New Beckham

Posted: 08/31/2009 5:31 pm

There's only one place in the world where representatives from the US, Austria, Britain, Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, to name a few, are gathering to meet face-to-face to settle their differences in a civilized manner. That place is (of all places) Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York. Those representatives are the elites of international tennis. The event is the US Open.

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Some of the biggest news about the Open so far is that officials have put the clampdown on players' use of Twitter in the locker rooms. An interesting story -- maybe a little less compelling than this summer's stories about Iran's liquidation of even the 'pseudo' in its pseudo-democracy (the mullahs are said to prefer the term 'costume-democracy') but, still, it's the end of the season and with even the president coming off a vacay it's probably time for a little autumnal relaxation, especially after this summer's fun -- swine flu and the health care headache.

Maybe for this reason, the real story about the US Open is about style. Tennis is one of the only -- if not the only -- sport in the world that brings together an international cadre of individuals to show themselves off. Probably no other sport in the world, if you think about it, is this cosmopolitan. The New York Times, always leading the way, has run a big piece about Roger Federer's style. With the golden 'F'elaborately brooched onto his shirts and his kinda-creepy Dr. Evil commie-lounge suits, the Swissman is making a splash.

Well, here's my younger, sleeker Huffpo riposte to stuffy-ish New York Times' coiffed leading netman: Spain's Fernando Verdasco. I've been watching Verdasco lately and you should do the same. As a player, he's fierce. He's got an enormous forehand. He beat #4 ranked Andy Murray this year and in the Australian Open's longest match ever came very close to beating Nadal in what some commentators said was an unprecendented display of endurance and ferocity against the game's greatest defender. And now, Verdasco is rising swiftly in the US Open -- which he arrived at after winning the Pilot Pen tournament -- beating John Isner to make it to the quarterfinals.
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Off the court, Verdasco has also got a secret weapon: Andre Agassi. Verdasco has been training with Agassi for some time now. He works with Agassi's coach, Darren Cahill, and with the star's former fitness coach, Gil Reyes. The results are clearly showing. Coming off his win of the Pilot Pen tournament, Verdasco earned this week's distinction of being the only male player in the entire ATP to increase his point ranking.

But Andre Agassi also adds the value of style -- and it's no exaggeration to say that with his neon pink 1980s spandex, his acid-wash jean shorts, the hightops, and, of course, the hair, Agassi did more for the spectator element of tennis than anyone since McEnroe. Verdasco is striking out in his own suit. He is already a major celebrity in Spain, where he graces magazine covers regularly (and, regularly, without a shirt). As he slides into the single-digit slots of the top ten, and under the style-and-game-tutelage of one of the game's great's, his fame will grow.

Keep an eye on Verdasco. His playing might offer an end-of-summer treat in the form of something Americans love almost more than townhall meetings: a strong upset by a stylish underdog.

 
 
 

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