MELBOURNE - Rafael Nadal went crashing out of the Australian Open first round on Tuesday as a dramatic day of upsets grabbed attention away from a match-fixing controversy that has left tennis reeling.
Nadal suffered one of the worst Grand Slam results of his career as he was stunned by fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco in a five-set thriller which recalled their epic 2009 semi-final.
Halep, the women’s world number two, soon followed him out in an almighty upset by Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai – who wept freely as she won her first Grand Slam match in 15 attempts.
While Halep’s defeat to Zhang, the world number 133, came out of the blue, it was Nadal’s loss which created concern as the 14-time Grand Slam-winner increasingly looks a fading force.
Nadal, 29, has only ever lost once before in a Grand Slam first round, at Wimbledon 2013, but he had not gone further than the quarter-finals at the majors since he won the 2014 French Open.
“It’s tough, but at the same time, I know I did everything that I can to be ready for it,” said Nadal.
“Was not my day. Let’s keep going. That’s the only thing. There is no more thing to do than keep practicing hard, keep practicing the same way that I was doing the last four, five months,” he said.
The big upsets at least provided relief from match-fixing revelations which hit the start of the tournament after a report said top players had been under suspicion but never punished.
In the latest developments, two more players said they had been targeted by match-fixers and Australian media reported that police were keeping a close eye on the tournament’s first round.