MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of a major for only the second time in his career, beaten in five sets by Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open in a reversal of their epic, 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal here seven years ago.
On Tuesday, Fernando Verdasco rallied from a 2-1 deficit and recovered a break in the fifth set to claim a 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win in 4 hours and 41 minutes, only his third victory in 17 matches against his fellow Spanish lefthander.
Nadal won his only Australian title in 2009 after beating Verdasco in the semifinals. The 14-time major winner’s only other first-round exit in a Grand Slam was at Wimbledon in 2013 when he lost in straight sets to No. 135-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium.
“It’s a hard and painful loss,” the fifth-seeded Nadal said. “He was playing amazing in the last set . .. more aggressive than me. He took more risks than me, and he won. Probably he deserved.”
There were two upsets on the women’s side, with No. 2 Simona Halep and seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams losing in the first round.
Halep, the 2014 French Open finalist, lost 6-4, 6-3 to Zhang Shuai for her third first-round loss at Melbourne Park in the past five years, but giving the No. 133-ranked Chinese qualifier her first win at a Grand Slam after 14 losses and only months after she contemplating retirement.
“It’s OK. I don’t want to make this match like dramatic,” said Halep, who refused to blame an Achilles tendon problem that forced her out of a warmup event for her earlier loss. “It happened. Everyone can lose. I have just to take it like it is and go ahead.”
Verdasco went for everything on his ground strokes, ripping 90 winners against only 37 for Nadal as he worked to the extremes to unsettle his former No. 1-ranked rival.
“To win against Rafa here coming from two sets down is unbelievable,” the 32-year-old, No. 45-ranked Verdasco said. “I think I played unbelievable — the fifth set from the break that he made me, I just started hitting winners. I don’t know how, just, you know I was closing the eyes and everything was coming in and I keep doing it and I was doing well.”
Stan Wawrinka, who beat Nadal in the 2014 Australian final, and four-time runnerup Andy Murray advanced, along with Lleyton Hewitt, the two-time major winner who is playing his 20th and last Australian Open tournament before retiring.
French Open champion Wawrinka was leading 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 when his opponent Dmitry Tursonov retired with what appeared to be an upper leg injury.
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, a 35-year-old, seven-time major winner trudged off Rod Laver Arena, waving to the crowd at 1:55 p.m. on the second day of the tournament following a surprising 6-4, 6-2 loss to the No. 47-ranked Johanna Konta, a Sydney-born British player who was making her debut in the main draw at the Australian Open after losing twice previously in qualifying.
Andy Murray opened with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Alexander Zverev, and remains very much a round-by-round proposition at Melbourne Park, where he has lost the final four times. He had Amelie Mauresmo, a new mother, back in his coaching corner for the match and was happy not to get any mid-match news from home.
Murray has said he’ll leave immediately, regardless of the stage of the tournament, if his wife, Kim, goes into labor in London with their first child.
“I’m more excited than nervous now,” Murray said of the pending arrival. “I don’t have any news because I’ve just come off the court. I’m hoping my phone hasn’t been buzzing in my bag. But Kim will message my team if anything’s going on during the matches, and I’ll see what happens.”
Williams had a career comeback last season, winning three titles, finding some consistency after a long struggle with illness and finishing the year in the top 10 for the first time since 2010. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian and U.S. Opens — the first and last majors of the year.
In 2016, she’s 0-2 after also losing in a warmup tournament at Auckland.
It was the eighth time she’s lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament and the third in Australia, where she reached the quarterfinals in her first appearance in 1998 and lost the final to her youngest sister, Serena, in 2003.
Konta was really going for her ground strokes in a high-risk, high-reward approach that kept Williams, who had wrapping on her left leg, on the defensive.
“When the draw came out and I saw who I was playing I was like ‘Well, ok, I just hope to stay out there more than an hour,’ ” Konta said in a post-match TV interview, apparently as surprised as anyone after her straight sets win over the No. 8-seeded Williams.
No. 3 Garbine Muguruza needed exactly an hour to beat Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit 6-0, 6-4, No. 11 Timea Bacsinszky advanced over Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 7-5 and No. 15 Madison Keys, a semifinalist here last year, had to save set points in the first before beating Zarina Diyas 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.
No. 13 Milos Raonic followed up his win over Roger Federer in the final of the Brisbane International tuneup event with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Lucas Pouille.
Japanese players had a mixed day with Naomi Osaka moving into the second round, while Yuichi Sugita fell to France’s Gael Monfils.
Osaka, an 18-year-old right-hander, advanced by topping Croatian Donna Vekic in two sets, 6-3, 6-2. Osaka used a consistent serve and superior court-coverage to easily beat her higher-ranked opponent, taking the 1-hour, 13-minute victory.
Former top-10 player Monfils was too good for Sugita. Monfils needed just 1 hour, 23 minutes to down the 124th-ranked Sugita, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.