Fernando Verdasco has knocked fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal out of the opening Grand Slam of the season, beating his fellow Spanish lefthander 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the first round.
It reversed an epic 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal the pair played in 2009 at Melbourne Park, which Nadal won in five sets and went on to take the title.
Verdasco clinched the fourth-set tiebreaker with an ace to send it to a fifth and deciding set, then after an exchange of breaks went ahead with a decisive break in the sixth game and held in the next to go up 5-2. He won the match in 4 hours, 41 minutes, on a service return winner.
Coming into the match, Nadal had won 14 of 16 previous meetings between the pair.
The last time Nadal and Verdasco met in Melbourne was in the 2009 semi-final, with Nadal beating Verdasco in a marathon match lasting more than five hours. Nadal went on to beat Federer in the final to lift his only Australian Open title.
Nadal was hoping to become the first man in the Open era and only the third ever to achieve a career grand slam double had he won the title. Roy Emerson and Rod Laver and are the only other players to have won each grand slam on two or more occasions.
The first-round exit was 2009 champion Nadal’s first at Melbourne Park and only his second at a grand slam.
“I just hit everything. I think I played unbelievable in the fifth set from the break,” Verdasco said in a courtside interview.
“I just started hitting winners. I don’t know how. I was closing the eyes and everything when I was coming in.
“I kept doing it so it went well.”
After shaking hands with his opponent and the chair umpire Nadal strode quickly off the court, barely pausing to acknowledge the crowd with a wave.