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Fernando Verdasco is the sixth Spaniard in the Open Era to earn 500 career tour-level victories.

Verdasco Joins Elite Company With 500th Win

ATP World Tour veteran, who reached milestone Tuesday in Madrid, reflects on past glories, looks forward to future success

The afternoons were routine: When the clock struck 5 p.m., a young Fernando Verdasco dashed home from school, dropped off his backpack, then rushed over to Madrid's tennis facilities to watch either his current coach, Ignacio Truyol, or his former coach, Juan-Luis Rascon-Lope, hone their games on the practice courts.

His intent was twofold: The seven-year-old wanted to learn from his future mentors but also hoped to get a few minutes of court time with the professional players. If that wasn't an option, he'd imitate their movements and motions by hitting balls against a fence. Now, plenty of children are looking up to Verdasco. The Spaniard earned the 500th match win of his career Tuesday by defeating Italian Paolo Lorenzi at the Mutua Madrid Open.

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"Fernandito was a kid who just loved tennis," former coach 'Tati' Rascon-Lope told ATPWorldTour.com. "His family lived next to the restaurant they owned, and the restaurant was next to the courts where he first began training with 'Nacho' [Truyol]. He'd come watch us, hoping we would play with him. Sometimes we'd hit a few balls with him; even back then, when he was just seven, he looked like someone who had the potential to one day be a pro."

It wasn't long before Verdasco made good on his former coach's prediction: At age 16, the Spaniard earned his first ATP Ranking point by defeating Jing Zhu Yang, 6-4, 6-3 at a Futures event in Madrid. The first major goal of Verdasco's career was accomplished. Two years later, Verdasco made the ultimate rite of passage when he faced his idol and mentor, Rascon-Lope, in the final at a Futures event in the Canary Islands. Verdasco lost the match, 6-4, 6-2, but he had announced his arrival on the tennis scene -- and impressed 'Tati' in the process.

"You knew you were in for a tough time the moment you stepped on the court against him," Rascon-Lope said. "He had these incredible left-handed forehand shots. But he was a rollercoaster. Everything went through him, for good or for bad. You could see that if he worked on it, he would be a very good player.”

Watch ATP World Tour Uncovered's 2012 Verdasco Feature

Potential fulfilled, right? Hardly. An 18-year-old Verdasco had tasted a bit of success and wanted more. Less than a month after defeating Rascon-Lope, Verdasco, then-No. 389 in the world, achieved his first victory at the ATP World Tour-level by defeating Mariano Puerta 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 in Sopot, Poland. The win came in just his second tour-level match.

With the broadened horizons, however, came some growing pains. While he was on par with the best in the world on a physical stage, he still lacked the maturity to compete with the top-tier players. That's when former coach Jesus Manteca stepped in.

"Fernando was dealing with this goal he had in his mind and he couldn't reach it quick enough, which is sometimes difficult to manage," said Manteca. "What he wanted to do was spelled out on paper, but the process he had to go through was a lot more complicated. Cutting corners to get there wasn't an option. He had the game, the qualities, the attributes. He hit harder than Carlos [Moya] and [Juan Carlos] Ferrero. With [Verdasco], it was more an issue of staying strong mentally when things got tough. That was his weakness but he had the level.

"Against [Puerta], he had little to lose and a lot to gain -- Puerta was the more established player. My job before that match was to make him step outside of himself and get him out of his own way, because if he was focused and played with confidence, I knew the outcome would be positive."

Verdasco's major breakthrough came a week after his ATP World Tour win: The Spaniard returned to his home country and reached the final of an ATP Challenger Tour event in Segovia. On his way to the final, Verdasco faced Rascon-Lope in the quarter-finals.

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"He was fresh off that win over Mariano," said Rascon-Lope, who lost to Verdasco, 7-6(4), 7-6(3). "He was a different player compared to the one I faced in the final in the Canary Islands. It had only been a few months but I wasn't the favourite this time around. I knew I was in for a tough time."

Rascon-Lope wasn't the only Verdasco foe on the opposite end of his power and potential in 2002: Jacobo Diaz, also from Madrid, crossed paths with Verdasco in the second round of an ATP Challenger Tour event in Maia, Portugal in September of that year.

"I remembered him from our days playing at [Madrid tennis club] Chamartin Tennis," Diaz said. "I was the favourite going into the match, but I knew what he was about. He had brutal power. His courage and gusto attracted a lot of attention. Even on the backhand side, he could hit some incredible winners."

Since turning pro in 2001, Verdasco has achieved plenty in his distinguished career: The Spaniard reached a career-high No. 7 in the ATP Rankings in 2009, has spent a total of 93 weeks as a Top 10 player and has lifted seven ATP World Tour titles. He also managed to reach 16 tour-level finals, including one at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000-level against Rafael Nadal at Monte-Carlo in 2010.

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9 Fernando Verdasco  500-371 

The veteran has also consistently proven his ability to deliver under pressure: He holds a 23-21 record in five-set matches and some of his most notable victories have come at Grand Slams. In 2016, Verdasco eliminated the fifth-seeded Nadal from the Australian Open in a five-set thriller. Seven years before that, Verdasco upset fourth-seeded Andy Murray in the fourth round at Melbourne, also in five sets. It was that year when Verdasco came within one match of reaching his first Grand Slam final before falling to top seed and eventual champion Nadal in one of the most exciting matches of his career, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7(2), 7-6(1), 4-6.

With 500 wins under his belt, it's difficult for Verdasco to rank his favourite victories.

"It's hard to pick one out," Verdasco said. "The first tournament I won in Valencia was very special but my wins at the 2009 Australian Open over [Andy] Murray and [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga [in the quarter-finals] also stand out. It was nice to win the title in San Jose against Andy Roddick and at Godo [Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell] against Robin Soderling (both events in 2010). I'd add my first victory at the Mutua Madrid Open to that list as well (Verdasco defeated Jonas Bjorkman 6-1, 6-2 in the first round in 2004)."

Verdasco holds the distinction of being the only player to prevent Nadal from reaching at least the semi-finals in Madrid since 2007: After three hours and 10 minutes, Verdasco emerged victorious with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 second-round win over his countryman in 2012. Another notable victory over a fellow Spaniard came in the fourth round of the 2010 US Open when Verdasco outlasted David Ferrer 5-7, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) in four hours and 23 minutes -- just one of 99 victories at a major that Verdasco has managed to claim throughout his remarkable career.

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And Verdasco isn't done yet: The Spaniard defeated the likes of Dominic Thiem at the Rio Open presented by Claro in February, and Grigor Dimitrov at Indian Wells a month later. Verdasco credits those victories and overall longevity to a strong work ethic and a love for what he does for a living. 

"I'm 34 years old now and I'm battling against 21-, 22-, 23-year-olds -- kids a lot younger than I am," Verdasco said. "They have a lot less kilometres on their legs. I just have to work really hard, stay highly motivated and believe that I can beat them.

"Everyone faces adversity; playing tennis is hard work and sometimes you just want to go to the beach or unwind for a few days with friends. But when I'm gone a week, I miss it. I just want to get back on court, go to the gym, keep improving and working hard to be at a high level and be able to fight against the best players in the world. I hope I still have time to improve on more things and to spend a few more years as a player."