Australian Open 2016: Rafael Nadal crashes out at hands of Fernando Verdasco
Seven years ago, Rafael Nadal outlasted Fernando Verdasco in a semi-final that, to that point, was the longest Australian Open match in history: five hours, 14 minutes.
History repeated at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, as Nadal and Verdasco produced a sequel that proved nearly as lengthy, but this time the original epic was eclipsed in this critical, unthinkable respect: Nadal lost.
In the Australian Open's most significant upset yet, Verdasco ousted Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2. What made the result most surprising was the nature of the defeat: Nadal had led 2-0 in the fifth set - at which point, you wouldn't have backed Verdasco with counterfeit money.
But Verdasco, who belted 90 winners in the course of the 4 hours 41 minutes, unexpectedly raised his game and then reeled off both a succession of winners, aces and games. He won the last six games and essentially dusted a passive Nadal off the court.
A typically generous Nadal said he had his chances, but had been beaten by a man who had chanced his arm and played the better tennis. "I had my chances in the fourth (set) too... He played better than me. He was more aggressive than me. He took more risks than me."
Nadal, indeed, had not played daring enough tennis and thought he was caught between attacking and defending. "You cannot be in the middle of being offensive and defensive."
Verdasco said of his fifth set run: "I think I played unbelievable in the fifth set....I kept hitting winners...I don't know how."
It was surprising, and thrilling - though it is also reasonable to wonder if we were seeing confirmation of Nadal's gradual decline, as his body's struggles begin to afflict his own faith. He entered the tournament expressing confidence in his body and training, but he did not produce it and has been sent out in the first round of a major for only the second time.
The outcome was a reversal of the normal pattern for Nadal, who is harder to beat in battles of will and endurance than nearly anyone in the game's history. That he lost the first set was no cause for concern for Rafa fans - it merely confirmed that this match would be a long day's journey into night.