Rafael Nadal was left mystified by his latest grand slam failure as the Spaniard crashed out in the Australian Open first round with a five-set defeat to Fernando Verdasco.
After a disappointing 2015 in which he failed to reach a single major semi-final, Nadal was hoping to instigate a revival in Melbourne but instead endured another agonising exit.
The 14-time major champion led by two sets to one and then 2-0 in the decider in Rod Laver Arena but Verdasco clinched the last six games in a row to win an epic battle 7-6 (8/6) 4-6 3-6 7-6 (7/4) 6-2.
It is the first time Nadal has lost in the Australian Open first round and means he has now failed to reach the second week of three consecutive major tournaments.
“He played better than me. He played more aggressive than me. He took more risks than me, and he won. Probably he deserved,” Nadal said.
“The match is a tough lose for me obviously. Obviously is tough, especially because is not like last year that I arrived here playing bad and feeling myself not ready for it.
“This year was a completely different story. I have been playing and practising great and working so much.
“Is tough when you work so much and arrive at a very important event and you’re going out too early. But at the same time, I know I did everything that I can to be ready for it. Was not my day. Let’s keep going. That’s the only thing.”
In his pomp, Nadal’s forehand was the most destructive shot in the game but he was outpowered by Verdasco, who hit an incredible 90 winners to his opponent’s 37.
Nadal has been working on playing further forward and asserting more authority in matches but he was unable to dictate as much as he would have liked.
“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,” Nadal said.
“Cannot happen when I am hitting my forehand. The opponent, if he wants to hit a winner is because he take too much risk. In my opinion was not the case of today.”
Verdasco will now play Israel’s Dudi Sela in round two and may feel a sense of justice after he lost a classic five-set contest with Nadal in the 2009 Australian Open semi-finals.
“I don’t know how many times I have watched that match, maybe 10 times, Verdasco said.
“Still now they come to me telling me like how good I play seven years ago. I’m like, ’you know I didn’t play again after that? Even last night they told me at the hotel.
“I’m like, I play against him tomorrow again. Many times people came to me and tell me about that match.”
Britain’s Andy Murray is safely through to the second round along with Spain’s David Ferrer, Canada’s Milos Raonic and Frenchman Gael Monfils.
Australian Bernard Tomic overcame Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in four sets but the match had to be stopped for around 15 minutes when a spectator suddenly fell ill.
“It was something I’ve never experienced in a match, so it was very unfortunate,” Tomic said.
“At one stage I was looking directly at the lady. It was not a good moment to be in for me. I felt very, very sad. I really hope she’s okay.”