Nadal stunned in Verdasco rematch
Seven years on from their epic Australian Open five-set semi-final, which Nadal triumphed in five hours and 14 minutes before going on to lift the title, the two Spanish left-handers played out another epic on Rod Laver Arena.
When Nadal took an early break in the fifth set, it looked like the 2016 edition – the 17th encounter between the pair – would go the same way that 14 previous meetings had – in Nadal’s favour.
But this time it was Verdasco, the world No.47, who stormed back, winning the final four games to clinch a 7-6(6) 4-6 3-6 7-6(4) 6-2 victory in four hours and 41 minutes.
“I thought many times about that semi-final,” said the former world No.7. “I [watched] it many times. It was a tough match to lose after five hours and 40 minutes. I didn’t really think I would have another five-set match against Rafa here in Australia.
“I think today’s match was kind of similar in terms of even games in the sets, going to five sets. At the beginning of the fifth I was for a second thinking about that semi-final. I was like, ‘Please, I don’t want to lose with a double fault at 5-4 30-40.
“He started breaking my serve. After that I started playing really well, hitting very hard serves and forehands and I didn’t make many mistakes. I am very happy with the way that I finished the match.”
It is only the second time in Nadal’s career that he has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam – after his shock defeat to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon in 2013. His last three defeats at Grand Slams have come against players with a combined ranking of 181 – Dustin Brown (No.102) at Wimbledon, Fabio Fognini (No.32) at the US Open and now Verdasco.
“I terms of being competitive, I was competitive,” said Nadal, who is now 198-30 in all Grand Slam singles matches. “In terms of creating damage to the opponent with my forehand, I didn’t. So I was hitting forehands and he was able to keep hitting winners.
“That was the biggest issue for me today. I don’t know 100 per cent the reason, to be honest. I was doing that well in practice and in previous tournaments. But it was not the case today.”
Verdasco will now face Israel’s Dudi Sela in the second round, while retirement for Kevin Anderson against Rajeev Ram means No.23 Gael Monfils is the highest-ranked player left in his section of the draw.
Elsewhere there were straight sets wins for Milos Raonic and David Ferrer, while Andy Murray was too strong for German teenager Alex Zverev, with the world No.2 easing to a 6-1 6-2 6-3 win in just over two hours.
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