10th May, 2012
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,” said Nadal, who intimated he will not show up next year unless the controversial blue clay surface he abhors is modified.
Nadal’s perfect record on the dirt for 2012 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.”
Verdasco lost the 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 inward and outward 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 here since Thursday. I was as prepared as I could be.
“I was not good enough to adapt my game to this court. If things continue like this, it will be very sad.
“Next year this will be one less event for my calendar.”
The devastated number two 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.
Nadal last won Madrid in 2010 over Roger Federer and had dominated Verdasco including the loss of just four games in a Barcelona semi-final victory two weeks ago.
The Mallorcan now stands 22-1 on clay since losing in the Rome final last year to Novak Djokovic.
Elsewhere, Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych ended the injury comeback effort of Frenchman Gael Monfils, the number 12, with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1 victory.
Monfils was playing for the first time since a March abdominal muscle problem. The flamboyant French player lost serve five times while never earning a break point against Berdych.
Estoril champion Juan del Potro, the tenth seed, beat Croatian Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4.
In women’s play, Serena Williams staged a recovery at the expense of Caroline Wozniacki as the American reached the quarter-finals 1-6, 6-3, 6-2
The comeback win in 1hr 42min put Williams into a showdown with second seed Maria Sharapova, who earned her last-eight place when opponent Lucie Safarova withdrew before their match with stomach illness.
Williams sleep-walked through the opening set as Denmark’s sixth seed had it all her own way in half an hour.
“I had a slow start today, I don’t know why,” said Williams. “I was sluggish and mentally maybe fighting some demons.”
Wozniacki had been bidding for a sixth quarter-final of the season but, having won six titles in 2011, she is still searching for her first of 2012.
The Dane rolled her ankle earlier in the week but said that was not a problem in her loss.
“It is feeling better, which is a huge plus. I can take a lot of positives from this match into the French Open,” she said. “I believe in myself, the confidence is there. I can beat anyone on a good day.”
Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska advanced over Italy’s Roberta Vinci 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 while Lucie Hradecka beat Elena Makarova of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (7/5).