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Rafael Nadal upset in first round of Australian Open

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Rafael Nadal (left) congratulated Fernando Verdasco after Verdasco stunned Nadal Tuesday at the Australian Open.Aaron Favila

MELBOURNE — For five sets and nearly five hours, two chiseled Spanish lefthanders 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 (8-6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 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 5-hour, 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 fifth-seeded 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.''

Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, staying on course for a potential quarterfinal meeting with Serena Williams.

Sharapova was finished in 71 minutes Wednesday, the first match completed on Day 3 after light rain caused delays on outside courts.

Kateryna Bondarenko earned one of her biggest wins since returning from retirement after having a baby in 2013, beating two-time major winner and No. 23-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 7-5.

The 92d-ranked Bondarenko is playing only her second Grand Slam tournament since returning to the tour in 2014.

No. 7-seeded Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open finalist, advanced to the third round in the men's draw with a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Austin Krajicek.


On Tuesday, No. 2 Simona Halep and seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams went out in the first round 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.

Williams was fined $5,000 for skipping a mandatory news conference following her first-round exit.

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 first-round loss in five years at Melbourne Park.

Verdasco went for everything on his groundstrokes, ripping 90 winners against only 37 for Nadal as he worked to the extremes to unsettle his former No. 1-ranked 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 (7-2), 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 two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who closed play on center court with a 6-0, 6-0 rout of Alison Van Uytvanck.

No. 2-ranked Murray, who opened with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Alexander Zverev, answered questions about reports, published by the BBC and Buzzfeed News, that match-fixing had gone unchecked in tennis.

The ATP and the other governing bodies for tennis have denied the allegations, and no players have been identified in the reports, but Murray said the authorities should have taken a more obvious lead in stamping it out.

''I just think that it should be tennis that does a better job of explaining,'' Murray said. ''You have to be proactive with things like this and go and speak to the players rather than them reading about it in the newspapers or listening to it on the TV or the radio.''


The reports alleged that 16 players, all ranked in the top 50 at some stage and half of them playing at the Australian Open, had repeatedly raised suspicion because of their results and had been flagged by tennis authorities, but had not been sanctioned.

The governing bodies for tennis rejected the claims, and highlighted the fact that five players and an official had received life bans after investigations from the Tennis Integrity Unit, which was set up in 2008.

Murray, like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, thought authorities could be doing more to combat the potential for corruption. Murray also said it was "a little bit hypocritical" for tournaments — including the Australian Open — to be sponsored by betting firms.