Nadal ousted in first round

Ver­dasco shocks fifth-seeded su­per­star

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Pye

mel­bourne, aus­tralia» 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 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 5hour, 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 in straight sets to No. 135-ranked Steve Dar­cis of Bel­gium.

“It’s a hard and painful loss,” the fifth­seeded 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.”

No. 2 Si­mona Halep and seven-time Grand Slam win­ner Venus Wil­liams also went out in the first round on Tues­day, when a se­ries of up­sets took some fo­cus off a match-fix­ing con­tro­versy that had over­shad­owed the first day of the sea­son’s first ma­jor.

Halep, the 2014 French Open fi­nal­ist, lost 6-4, 6-3 to Zhang Shuai, giv­ing the No. 133-ranked Chi­nese qual­i­fier her first win at a Grand Slam af­ter 14 losses.

“It’s OK. I don’t want to make this match like dra­matic,” said Halep, who re­fused to blame an Achilles ten­don prob­lem for con­tribut­ing to her third firstround loss in five years.

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. 1ranked ri­val.

“To win against Rafa here com­ing from two sets down is un­be­liev­able,” the No. 45-ranked Ver­dasco said. “I think I played un­be­liev­able — the fifth set from the break that he made me, I just started hit­ting win­ners. I don’t know how, just, you know I was clos­ing the eyes and ev­ery­thing was com­ing in and I keep do­ing it and I was do­ing well.”

Stan Wawrinka, who beat Nadal in the 2014 Aus­tralian fi­nal, and four-time run­ner-up Andy Mur­ray ad­vanced, along with No. 8 David Fer­rer, No. 10 John Is­ner, no. 13 Mi­los Raonic and Lley­ton Hewitt, the two-time ma­jor win­ner who is play­ing his 20th and last Aus­tralian Open tour­na­ment be­fore re­tir­ing.

French Open cham­pion Wawrinka was lead­ing 7-6 (2), 6-3 when his op­po­nent Dmitry Tur­sonov re­tired with what ap­peared to be an up­per leg in­jury.

Af­ter beat­ing Halep, Zhang burst into tears when asked about break­ing the drought.

“I think in my life, it’s the best ten­nis,” she said. “To win against a top-two player, I’m so happy, so ex­cited.”

Wil­liams lost 6-4, 6-2 to Jo­hanna Konta, her eighth first-round loss at a ma­jor.

No. 3 Gar­bine Mugu­ruza and No. 7 An­gelique Kerber ad­vanced along with twotime Aus­tralian Open cham­pion Vic­to­ria Az­erenka, who closed play on cen­ter court with a 6-0, 6-0 rout of Ali­son Van Uyt­vanck.

No. 2-ranked Mur­ray opened with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Alexan­der Zverev.

Mean­while, Venus Wil­liams was fined $5,000 by tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers for skip­ping the news con­fer­ence af­ter her firstround exit.

The fine is the high­est a fe­male player has faced for skip­ping a manda­tory news con­fer­ence and the se­cond-high­est fine since Marat Safin was fined $10,000 at the 2001 French Open.

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