MELBOURNE, Australia -- Spain's Fernando Verdasco
emerged as a strong contender for next week's Australian Open
with a 6-1, 6-2 demolition of world No. 3 Novak Djokovic
to book a place in the final of the Kooyong Classic on
However, the tournament was hit by two withdrawals that
could have a big impact on the first Grand Slam of the year
when world No. 8 Robin Soderling and U.S. Open champion
Juan Martin Del Potro both fell victim to injury.
Soderling retired hurt with an elbow problem after losing
the first set 6-4 against Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic while
organizers confirmed that Del Potro had pulled out of the
tournament with an injured wrist, without elaborating on the
extent of the damage.
The Argentine had been due to play a semifinal against
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with the Frenchman now advancing to meet
World No. 9 Verdasco, who lost an epic semifinal
battle against eventual winner Rafael Nadal in Melbourne last
year, needed only 52 minutes to brush aside an out-of-sorts
Djokovic, who collapsed in a hail of unforced errors.
"I was feeling good today, despite the conditions,"
Verdasco said, referring to the blustery winds
swirling around the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.
"Of course, the result was a surprise. You never go to the
court, and even less, with one guy like Novak Djokovic, and you
think that you are going to win 6-1, 6-2."
While Djokovic appeared at times unable to string two
on-target shots together, the 26-year-old Verdasco was all
control, breaking the Serbian in the first and third games to
race to a 5-0 lead.
Djokovic began finding his range after losing a third break
to trail 1-0 in the second set but Verdasco moved brilliantly
to chase down potential winners and send back the Serbian's
baseline firepower with interest.
"Today I didn't feel good on the court since I stepped in,"
Djokovic said. "He played well, but I made too many unforced
errors and that's it."
The Serbian played down the result as "good practice" for
the Australian Open, before adding that he had been practicing
"I played a lot of matches last year, almost a hundred
matches so I, to be honest, I'm a bit fed up with the matches,"
Soderling, playing a dead rubber against Ljubicic after
losing to Tsonga on Wednesday, spoke to a tournament
physiotherapist after losing the first set and walked off the
The Swede, who was beaten by Roger Federer at the final of
the French Open last year, said a tendonitis injury he had been
troubled with since Wimbledon had flared up while playing.
"It was better yesterday, today I felt it a little bit
more, so I figured I didn't want to take any more risks," he
"A lot of times, it got better in just a couple of days, so
with some rest and some treatment, I really hope I will feel
good next week."
Soderling said he would not play another match at Kooyong,
however, and declined to talk about his chances of playing the
British world No. 5 Andy Murray, aiming to clinch his
maiden Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park, did his confidence
no harm with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over 25th-ranked American
Sam Querrey in an exhibition match later on Thursday.