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 semifinal 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 on Tuesday 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 semifinal, 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 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.”
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.
On Wednesday, defending champion Serena Williams beat No. 90-ranked Hsieh Su-wei, 6-1, 6-2, at Rod Laver Arena.
She closed with an ace, her seventh, finishing in precisely an hour. Williams hit 26 winners, including one around the post that she thought may have been a first for her, at age 34.
Williams’ next opponent will be 18-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina, who beat Croatia’s Ana Konjuh, 6-4, 6-3, and she faces a potential quarterfinal match against Maria Sharapova, which would be a rematch of the 2015 final.
Sharapova reached the third round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first match completed on Day 3, when light rain caused an hourlong delay getting started on the outside courts.
Roger Federer extended his streak by reaching the third round for the 17th straight Australian Open. Federer, playing his 65th consecutive major, advanced, 6-3, 7-5, 6-1, past Alexandr Dolgopolov. He lost in the third round in his first two trips to Melbourne Park in 2000 and ’01 and again last year; in between he won the title four times and lost one final during a run of reaching the semifinals or better in 11 straight years.