SAN JOSE, Calif. – Fernando Verdasco saw the way Juan Martin del Potro dismantled Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals of the SAP Open and knew he'd have to be at the top of his game to make a return trip to the final.
Verdasco used another strong serving match and a powerful forehand that delivered winners at key moments to beat del Potro 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals Saturday night.
"That match maybe woke me up in the sense that I said to myself, 'I really need to go out there and give my best if I want to win this match,'" Verdasco said. "I started from the first point 100 percent and I broke him in the first game of the match. I was feeling pretty good in all the aspects of the game."
Verdasco will play Sunday against unseeded Milos Raonic, who advanced to his first ATP Tour final in a walkover after second-seeded Gael Monfils pulled out of the tournament with an injured left wrist.
Verdasco improved to 9-0 at this tournament and is looking to follow up the title he won in three sets over Andy Roddick in last year's final. He is looking to defend a title for the first time in his career and earn his sixth career championship.
"For my style of game this court is one of the surfaces that I feel better on," Verdasco said. "It's one surface and conditions that really help me for my game."
Verdasco made it back to the final despite spending almost two weeks before the tournament on his couch in Madrid after having a cortisone shot in his injured left ankle and then nursing a fever.
He was tested more than he has been all week by del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open winner who is working his way back into form after missing almost all of last year with a right wrist injury.
Verdasco had his run of 37 straight service holds snapped early in the second set but responded to the early deficit by breaking del Potro's serve in two of his final three service games.
He got right back into the set with a nifty forehand passing shot winner on the first point on del Potro's next service game and then earned a set point with another forehand winner. His deep return forced del Potro to hit a forehand wide and he was back on serve at 2-3.
Verdasco then withstood a three-deuce game on his own serve to get to 4-all and came through on his fourth break point attempt in the next game to take control. He hit unforced errors on the first three break chances, barely missing a forehand winner down the line. He won it with a forehand winner and then held his final service game at love, closing the match with his fifth ace.
Verdasco broke del Potro's serve in the opening game of the match and was never threatened in the opening set, losing just three points in his five service games. Del Potro lost his serve three times after losing it just once in his first three matches this week.
"I had a bad start but it was in the beginning of the match so I had all the rest of the match to try to beat him," del Potro said. "But he played much better than me today."
Del Potro has fallen from fourth in the rankings after winning the 2009 U.S. Open to 484th heading into this week as he played only three tournaments last year because of the injury and did not win a match after January. He was looking to become the second-lowest ranked player to win an ATP Tour title since the rankings began in 1973. Hewitt was ranked 550th when he won in Adelaide in 1998.
Verdasco and Raonic have never played but will become quite familiar with each other in the next few days because of a scheduling quirk. After playing Sunday in San Jose, the two will meet again on Wednesday in the first round in Memphis.
"I prefer to win tomorrow and lose in Memphis so I will have one more title," Verdasco said.
Raonic has had a strong start to the season, going through qualifying and winning three matches in the Australian Open and making it to his first ATP World Tour final. He has shot up the rankings from 156th at the end of last year to 84th heading into this week. He is expected to be 66th if he loses on Sunday and 59th if he wins the title.
"It's nice getting that kind of attention," he said. "But more importantly it's nice doing well at the top level of tennis because that's what my goals are."
The 20-year-old is looking to become the first Canadian to win a title on the ATP World Tour since Greg Rusedski won in Seoul in April 1995.
He leads the tournament with 45 aces in just three matches, winning a staggering 87.4 percent of first-serve points. He tuned up for the final by playing Ivo Karlovic in an exhibition, losing a pair of tiebreakers to the big-serving Croat.
"It's nice to be in the final but it doesn't matter," Raonic said. "Tomorrow is a different match. I can enjoy that more after the tournament than during. I have to prepare for tomorrow and do what I need to do to have my best chance to win tomorrow."