Rafael Nadal went down in frustration as the second seed lost his first match of the season on clay, with Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco triumphing 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 on Thursday in the third round of the Madrid Masters.
“I never was in control of the match, I didn’t know how to win a point,” Nadal said.
Nadal’s perfect record on the dirt for this year was marred as Madrid native Verdasco clawed out the opening set to stun multiple Monte Carlo and Barcelona champion Nadal, who, though he dug out the second set, succumbed in the decider.
“Movement is very important for me and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t hit ball the way I wanted. I lost because I deserved to lose,” Nadal said.
It was entirely another story for top seed Novak Djokovic, who needed two match points to beat Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 and Roger Federer, who rolled over Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-2.
With the exit of Nadal, Federer now has a chance to return to the ATP No. 2 ranking if he can win the title, according to ATP calculations.
“It was a surprising loss for Rafa,” the Swiss said. “But Verdasco is a quality player who should have maybe beaten Nadal in the past. Down two breaks in a match on clay you don’t expect a guy to come back. But the tournament goes on without Rafa.”
“I did well today, playing clean tennis. Maybe I had some unforced errors when I went for shots, but the ball flies here. I served well when I had to and played well on big points,” Federer said before facing Spanish fifth-seed David Ferrer, who beat compatriot Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 7-6 (10/8).
Verdasco lost his second set as Nadal found his rhythm, but the 15th-seeded challenger rallied from 1-4 down in the third to work his upset miracle, winning his first match over the king of clay from 14 attempts.
The final set was littered with seven breaks of serve, with a nervous Nadal well off his game and expressing frustration with the surface which has drawn his ire for weeks.
Verdasco applied the pressure in the final game to break Nadal and advance on his second match point, with the winner kissing the surface in gratitude.
“I couldn’t close out the match at 5-2. He played better than me,” said Nadal, by far the harshest critic of the experimental switch to blue clay.
“The ATP and the tournament can do what they want, I tried my best, I’ve trained since Thursday. I was as prepared as I could be. I was not good enough to adapt my game to this court,” he said.
The devastated No. 2 will need to regroup if he is to regain equilibrium, with next week’s Masters 1000 in Rome restoring some normality with a return to classic red clay and sea-level altitude.
The Mallorcan now stands 22-1 on clay since losing in the Rome final last year to Djokovic.
Elsewhere, Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych ended the injury comeback effort of Frenchman Gael Monfils, the No. 12, with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1 victory.
Estoril champion Juan Martin del Potro, the tenth seed, beat Croatian Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4.
In the women’s tournament, Serena Williams overcame a lethargic start to upset fellow former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki at the Madrid Open on Thursday and set up a quarter-final meeting with old foe Maria Sharapova.
The ninth seed powered to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over the Dane, clubbing a blistering 43 winners to reach the last eight in the Spanish capital for the first time.