MELBOURNE—World number five Rafael Nadal was sent crashing out of the Australian Open first round by fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco in an epic five-set match on Tuesday.
Verdasco won the thriller 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in four hours, 41 minutes to hand 14-time Grand Slam winner Nadal only his second ever first-round defeat at a major tournament.
The latest chastening loss for Nadal, 29, extends a Grand Slam dry spell which goes back to the 2014 French Open, and will increase fears over his long-term ability to compete at the elite level.
The rollercoaster encounter also recalls the 2009 semi-final between the two Spanish left-handers which Nadal won in five hours and 14 minutes, the second longest match in tournament history, en route to his only Australian Open title.
“I think I played unbelievable in the final set from that early break and I started hitting winners,” said the 45th-ranked Verdasco.
It was the first time Nadal had lost in the opening round of a major tournament since his shock loss to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon in 2013.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray and Garbine Muguruza raced into the second round Tuesday but Venus Williams was a major casualty as match-fixing claims continued to shake the Grand Slam tournament.
On another sizzling day in Melbourne, sweat-drenched Murray doused the challenge of exciting German prospect Alexander Zverev 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 to get his campaign underway.
Last year’s runner-up is hoping to become the first man in the Open-era to win a Grand Slam title after losing the final four times, and Zverev, 18, proved no match for the world number two.
“Alex fought right through to the last point so he made it very competitive at the end in tough conditions today,” said the Scot.
“It was very hot today so I was very glad to get it done in straight sets.”
Muguruza wasted little time as she beat Estonian debutante Anett Kontaveit 6-0, 6-4 in one hour exactly—and immediately set her sights on dethroning Serena Williams in the final.
“To win the Grand Slam here you are going to have to beat Serena (Williams). It will be great if I can play against her,” said the confident Spanish world number three.
Temperatures of 33 Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) took their toll and Diego Schwartzman was stretchered off after retiring in the fourth set against John Millman with cramps.
Match-fixing speculation also continued to reverberate on day two as more players revealed approaches after a BBC and BuzzFeed report said corruption was widespread in the sport.
After world number one Novak Djokovic said he was once offered $200,000 to throw a match, Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis said he had been approached on Facebook.
And retired Briton Arvind Parmar told how he was once offered a cash-stuffed envelope to lose a match, one hour before he stepped on court at a Challenger tournament in the Netherlands.
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