Rafael Nadal suffered the only first-round exit of his career at the Australian Open after Fernando Verdasco recorded a stunning five-set win. The Spanish left-handers produced an exhibition of hard-hitting in a match which spanned four hours and 40 minutes in the Rod Laver Arena. Verdasco saved a break point to prevent going 3-0 down in the decider, going on to win 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 3-6 7-6 (4-7) 6-2. The world number 45 hit 90 winners and meets Israel’s Dudi Sela in round two.
His display throughout thrilled spectators and as his momentum in the deciding set saw him win six-straight games to shock the fifth seed, who managed 37 winners in comparison. “I played unbelievably in the fifth set,” said Verdasco, 32. “I don’t know how I did it. I closed my eyes and everything went in.” Verdasco – beaten by Nadal in the semi-finals in 2009 – showed grit to stay in touch when his compatriot threatened to dominate. After surrendering a 5-2 lead in the fourth set, he dug deep to win the tie-break and take the match the distance. At 2-2 in the decider a glorious forehand – packed with the type of power he had showed throughout the contest – put Verdasco ahead and he never looked back.