Sports

Verdasco stuns ex-world No. 1 Nadal

Former world 
No. 1 stunned by Verdasco, who unleashes winners in dazzling 
fifth set


Rafael Nadal was bundled out in the first round of the Australian Open yesterday, toppled by countryman Fernando Verdasco in a five-set marathon that left the centre-court crowd stunned and the former world No. 1 shattered.

The 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 loss was the 2009 champion's first in an opening round at Melbourne Park and only his second first-round loss in a Grand Slam.

Leading 2-0 in the final set, Nadal was in the box seat to prevail in a highly physical encounter, but world No. 45 Verdasco dragged himself off the canvas to win six straight games with a barrage of forehand winners.

"He was playing amazing in the last set," a gutted Nadal said.

"He had a lot of success (with) all the balls hitting full power in the fifth.

"The real thing is I was not aggressive enough with my forehand during the whole match.

"I didn't feel it. I tried. I fought. I was ready to do it, and I didn't. So I am sad for that."

QUICK RETREAT

After shaking hands with his opponent and the chair umpire, Nadal strode quickly off the court, barely pausing to acknowledge the crowd with a wave.

His only other first-round loss in a Grand Slam was to Belgium's Steve Darcis at Wimbledon in 2013.

Verdasco, 32, sealed the 4hr 41min classic in style, breaking Nadal's serve for a third time in the set with a crosscourt winner.

"I just hit everything. I think I played unbelievable in the fifth set from the break," Verdasco, beaten by Nadal in the 2009 semi-finals, said in a courtside interview.

"I just started hitting winners. I don't know how.

"I was closing the eyes and everything was coming in."

Nadal, 29, had spoken of bringing "happy feelings" to Melbourne Park, having arrived at his healthiest in years, following a taxing off-season training camp.

But his exit will do little to dispel the belief that the 14-time Grand Slam champion's best days are behind him.

Verdasco was inspired, however, gaining partial revenge for his epic five-set defeat by Nadal seven years ago in the second-longest match recorded at the Australian Open, landing a hammer blow to his countryman's early-season confidence.

TOUGH

"It's tough especially because it's not like (it) was here last year," said Nadal, beaten by Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals last year while on a comeback from injury.

"This year was a completely different story - I had been playing and practising great and working so much." - Reuters.

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