Former world No.1 Rafael Nadal has been left searching for answers after a shock first-round exit at the hands of Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open.
Second seed Andy Murray had no such problems on Tuesday, progressing in straight sets, but the focus was squarely on Nadal following Verdasco’s 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 win on Rod Laver Arena.
The previous meeting between Nadal and Verdasco at Melbourne Park was in 2009 when the Spanish Davis Cup-winning teammates battled it out for more than five hours in an epic semi-final won by Nadal.
But Verdasco overcame an early break in the fifth set to turn the tables on his good friend, in the process delivering the 14-times major winner only his second first-round loss in 44 grand slam appearances.
Nadal didn’t make it past the quarter-finals at any grand slam last year as he battled persistent knee issues but he was at a loss to explain his latest performance.
“The match is a tough loss for me obviously … especially because is not like last year that I arrived here playing bad and feeling myself not ready for it,” Nadal said.
“This year was a completely different story. I have been playing and practicing great and working so much.
“It’s tough but at the same time I know I did everything that I can to be ready for it. It was not my day – let’s keep going – that’s the only thing.”
Verdasco, currently ranked 45th in the world, hasn’t reached the semi-finals at a grand slam since that 2009 classic.
He was thankful his aggressive approach after the early service break in the fifth paid dividends.
“I played unbelievable in the fifth set after the break that he made – just started hitting winners,” Verdasco said.
“In the fourth set I think I started serving better than in the second and third.
“He also started playing a little less strongly, so I started coming inside the court. I tried to be aggressive and it went well.
“To win against Rafa here, coming from two sets to one down is an unbelievable feeling.”
Verdasco set up a second-round encounter with Israeli Dudi Sela, ranked 87th in the world.
Earlier, four-time finalist Murray set up a showdown with home hope Sam Groth after steaming through his first-round match.
The world No.2 blasted past young German Alexander Zverev 6-1 6-2 6-3 to join in-form Canadian Milos Raonic as an early day-two winner.
Murray was glad to get off the court in straight sets but said the match had been more difficult than the scoreline suggested.
“It got tough at the end. There were a lot of tough games, a lot of tough rallies.
“Alex fought right through to the last point and it was obviously tough conditions today. It got very hot when the clouds went away.”
Raonic, who opened the season with victory over Roger Federer in the Brisbane final, beat Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-1 6-4 6-4, while Groth advanced with a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over Adrian Mannarino.
Queenslander John Millman is also through to the second round after Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman retired in the fourth set out on court six, while holding a two-sets-to-one lead.
No.11 seed Kevin Anderson was the highest-ranked casualty on Tuesday, with Rajeev Ram progressing after the South African retired when trailing by two sets to one.
Italian 20th seed Fabio Fognini is also out, beaten by Luxembourgs’s Gilles Muller 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (9-7) 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-1).