Friday 13 December 2019

Fifth seed Rafa Nadal dumped out of Australian Open

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts during his first round match against Spain's Fernando Verdasco
Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts during his first round match against Spain's Fernando Verdasco
Rafael Nadal is consoled by compatriot Fernando Verdasco after his first round loss at the Australian Open

Tom Allnutt

Rafael Nadal bowed out in the Australian Open first round as fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco came from behind to win 7-6 (8/6), 4-6 3-6 7-6 (7/4) 6-2.

Nadal led by two sets to one and then 2-0 in the decider in Rod Laver Arena but Verdasco came roaring back, unleashing an incredible 90 winners on route to a superb victory.

The world number 45 will now face Israel's Dudi Sela in round two, while Nadal exits a third consecutive grand slam in the first week.

"I played unbelievable in the fifth set from after the break he made against me," Verdasco said.

"I just started hitting winners - I don't know how. I was closing my eyes and everything was coming in."

Nadal overcame Verdasco in a momentous five-setter in the Australian Open semi-finals six years ago, but few expected a similar battle with Verdasco now 32 and with his best days behind him.

Nadal, though, is not the powerhouse presence he once was, having crashed out in the second round at Wimbledon last year and US Open third round.

There had been signs of a revival in recent weeks but the 14-time major champion was simply unable to cope with Verdasco's superior baseline hitting, which yielded 90 winners - 41 of them forehands - to Nadal's 37.

A double fault at 6-6 in the first-set tie-break was enough to give Verdasco an early lead, but Nadal looked to have ridden the storm when he clinched the next two sets - the first following a thrilling rally, which ended with Nadal roaring and pumping his fists.

However, Verdasco refused to lie down, cranking up the power on his forehand and nicking the fourth set to force a decider.

Again Nadal edged ahead with an early break in the fifth, but it was Verdasco who strung together six games in a row, including two breaks of serve, to seal victory in four hours and 41 minutes.

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