World No. 1 Rafael Nadal suffered a surprise 2-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 semi-final defeat by unseeded Spanish compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez at the Thailand Open yesterday.
The US Open champion looked set to cruise into the final after a polished first-set performance, but had no reply to Garcia-Lopez’s thrilling fightback that led to a second-set tiebreak during which Nadal’s game started to unravel.
The 53rd-ranked Garcia-Lopez will face Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen, who continued his impressive run with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Germany’s Benjamin Becker to reach his first final of the season.
Nadal only had himself to blame for squandering 24 of 26 break-points and making costly errors in a scintillating final set. He lost his cool and handed the advantage to his opponent midway through the grueling 2 hour, 45 minute encounter.
Garcia-Lopez sought treatment for hip and back injuries after the first set, but showed his resolve by keeping Nadal at bay and frustrating him with pinpoint forehands and precise drop-shots.
“I’ve never beaten a world No. 1 before, this was the best match of my career,” Garcia-Lopez told reporters. “I knew that if I thought about beating Rafa Nadal, I’d have a problem, so I tried not to think about it.”
The turning point came in the fourth game of deciding set, when Nadal, who also holds the Wimbledon and French Open crowns, needlessly drove a simple smash into the net.
Garcia-Lopez then made his break, chasing after Nadal’s poorly struck drop-shot and blasting the ball down the line to steal an advantage he never gave up.
“He took his chance and after that I lost chance after chance,” Nadal said. “He never gave in. I gave up too many chances. It was one of those matches — I probably have one like that every two years.”
In the other semi-final, Nieminen had both the edge and the fortitude in a close battle with the hard-hitting German and was made to work for his victory.
Nieminen served well and made the break in the second game, coolly handling Becker’s repertoire of spin-loaded returns that had him pinned down and darting around the court in a match packed with long rallies.
Becker worked tirelessly to get back into the match, but paid the price for too many wayward shots.
“It feels great to be back in the final, it’s been a long time and it really feels like a long time,” Nieminen said. “I felt good, I haven’t dropped a set and I’m playing really well. I just need to keep executing my game.”
AFP, KUALA LUMPUR
Fourth seed and US Open semi-finalist Mikhail Youzhny won an all-Russian tie at the Malaysian Open yesterday, reaching the final with a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 win over compatriot Igor Andreev.
The winner of one trophy this season, in Munich, will play today against eighth-seeded Kazak Andrey Golubev, who beat No. 5 Spaniard David Ferrer 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in their semi-final.
Youzhny defeated Andreev, a qualifier who once reached the top 20, in just over 90 minutes.
“It was a tough match,” said Youzhny, who reached his fourth final of the year. “He played really well in the first set, but since he’s coming back from injuries, his level dropped in the second and I was able to go through. I’m not thinking about another title, I just want to keep my level the way it is now.”
Youzhny now stands 3-1 against Andreev, whose last ATP title came five years ago.