MELBOURNE, Australia—For five sets and nearly five hours, two chiseled Spanish left-handers went head-to-head again at the Australian Open.
It wasn’t a semi-final this time, though, and it didn’t end nearly as well for Rafael Nadal, who lost 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 to Fernando Verdasco and was eliminated in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time in a career that has netted him 14 major titles.
Nadal won his only Australian title in 2009 after overcoming Verdasco in a five-hour, 14-minute semi-final—a match that still ranks among the classics at Melbourne Park.
This time, Verdasco rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win the last two sets—and came from a break down in the fifth—to win in 4:41 and reach the second round.
Nadal’s only previous first-round exit in a Grand Slam was at Wimbledon in 2013, when he lost in straight sets to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium.
“It’s a hard and painful loss,” the fifth-seeded Nadal said. “He [Verdasco] was playing amazing in the last set . . . more aggressive than me.
“He took more risks than me and he won.
“Probably he deserved.”
“To win against Rafa here coming from two sets down is unbelievable,” said the 45th-ranked Verdasco.
“I think I played unbelievable—the fifth set from the break that he made me, I just started hitting winners.”
No. 2 Simona Halep and seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams also went out in the first round today, when a series of upsets took some focus off a match-fixing controversy that had overshadowed the first day of the season’s first major.
Halep, the 2014 French Open finalist, lost 6-4, 6-3 to Zhang Shuai, giving the 133rd-ranked Chinese qualifier her first win at a Grand Slam after 14 losses.
“It’s OK. I don’t want to make this match like dramatic,” noted Halep, who refused to blame an Achilles tendon problem for contributing to her third first-round loss in five years at Melbourne Park.
After beating Halep, Zhang burst into tears when asked about breaking the drought.
“I think in my life, it’s the best tennis,” she said.
“To win against a top-two player, I’m so happy, so excited.”
Williams, meanwhile, fell 6-4, 6-2 to Johanna Konta—her eighth first-round loss at a major.
Stan Wawrinka, who beat Nadal in the 2014 Australian final, and four-time runner-up Andy Murray advanced today.
Also moving on were No. 8 David Ferrer, No. 10 John Isner, No. 13 Milos Raonic, and Lleyton Hewitt, the two-time major winner who is playing his 20th and last Australian Open tournament before retiring.