Nadal wary of 'dangerous' Verdasco

Rafael Nadal admitted yesterday he faces a "very, very dangerous" Australian Open first-round clash against Fernando Verdasco, with memories of their epic 2009 semi-final duel still fresh.

At 5hr 14min, that battle seven years ago was then the longest match in the tournament's history with a shattered Nadal showing incredible resilience to win 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-6 (7/2), 6-7 (1/7), 6-4.

Despite the brutal but high-quality marathon, he went on to spend another 4hr 23min on court to beat Roger Federer in the final and win his only Australian Open title.

The two Spaniards have been pitted together again at Melbourne Park and despite Verdasco slipping down the rankings to 47, Nadal knows he has his work cut out.

"Very tough first round. Not a lucky first round, I think, for me. For him either," said Nadal, seeded five.

"Will be a tough match. I need to be ready to play very good tennis if I want to be through."

Nadal, who lost to Novak Djokovic in the Qatar Open final earlier this month, still has vivid memories of the 2009 encounter with his fellow left-hander.

He said: "Obviously, that match gave me the chance to win the only Australian Open that I won.

"That was an unforgettable memory for me. I think it was a huge level of tennis there. Some spectacular points.

"A lot of people always talk to me about that match. I enjoyed that match. Was a tough one. Was a great experience."

Asked if it was more difficult playing a fellow left-hander, Nadal, 29, said it was not important.

"I played a lot of times with lefties. We'll see. But it's not about playing against a lefty, is about playing against a player who has a huge potential, is able to reach a great level of tennis," he said.

"If you are not playing your best, it is a very, very dangerous match."

Nadal endured his worst season in a decade last year and is looking for a solid start to this year.

The former No. 1's reign as French Open king ended at the quarter-final stage last year, and he also failed to reach the semi-finals of the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon.

If he gets past Verdasco, his next major challenge should come against Swiss fourth seed Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals.

Whether battling injury or illness, Nadal has rarely arrived at Melbourne Park without something nagging at his confidence, so his early-season fitness has come as a breath of fresh air.

"I have had good practices here," he said.

"Very happy to be here again. Good feelings. Just trying to be ready."

The 29-year-old 14-time Major champion was able to avoid serious injury in the latter part of the season, allowing him to put in his most solid pre-season training in years.

"I think Rafael's level is better than at this point last year," his coach and uncle Toni Nadal said.

"That he's feeling good physically helped us more...

"For a long time, we had to be careful with the workouts because there were various problems but, for a while now, we have been able to do high-intensity training sessions for as long as we want.

"I also think we have managed to get him back to playing aggressively." - Reuters.

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