RAFAEL Nadal suffered his first round-one exit at the Australian Open as Fernando Verdasco recorded a stunning five-set win at Melbourne Park.
The Spanish left-handers produced an exhibition of hard-hitting to thrill those inside the Rod Laver Arena over four hours and 40 minutes.
Verdasco saved a break point to prevent going 3-0 down in the decider, going on to win 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 3-6 7-6 (4-7) 6-2.
In the women’s draw second seed Simona Halep suffered a shock defeat.
The 24-year-old Romanian was beaten 6-4 6-3 by Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai, ranked 133rd in the world, and left the court in tears.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Halep. “But it’s only one day, only one match. Tomorrow, it’s a new day.”
She praised Zhang, adding: “She played without fear and she hit every ball. She had good rhythm.”
Zhang, who will turn 27 on Thursday, was also crying after securing her first victory in a Grand Slam at her 15th attempt.
She said she had “almost retired” last year after her ranking plummeted.
Once as high as 30 in the world, she dropped to around 200 and admitted she had felt “very sad every day”.
As for Verdasco, he now meets Israel’s Dudi Sela after hitting 90 winners and winning six straight games to clinch victory over fifth seed Nadal.
“I played unbelievably in the fifth set,” said Verdasco, 32. “I don’t know how I did it. I closed my eyes and everything went in.”
Verdasco, beaten by Nadal in the semi-finals in 2009, showed grit to stay in touch when his compatriot threatened to dominate.
After surrendering a 5-2 lead in the fourth set, he dug deep to win the tie-break and take the match the distance.
At 2-2 in the decider, a glorious forehand – packed with the type of power he had showed throughout the contest – put Verdasco ahead and the would number 45 never looked back.
Nadal, who had beaten Verdasco 14 times in 16 meetings, talked about his game and the way tennis is changing following his loss.
“Everybody now tries to hit all the balls,” said the 14-time Grand Slam winner.
“There are no balls that you can prepare the point. The game has become a little bit more crazy in this aspect.
“I was practising a little bit different, trying to be more aggressive. I can play defensive or offensive. But if you stay in the middle, then I am dead.” -BBC
Follow us on Twitter on @FingazLive and on Facebook – The Financial Gazette