Nadal to 'keep going' despite latest setback

Rafael Nadal (AP Photo)
Rafael Nadal (AP Photo)

Melbourne - Rafael Nadal did his best to shrug off his latest Grand Slam setback on Tuesday and pledged to fight on - despite the "crazy", go-for-broke tennis now played by some of his rivals.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion, just three behind all-time leader Roger Federer, bombed out in the opening round of the Australian Open to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.

In only his second first-round loss at a major tournament, Nadal, 29, fought for four hours, 41 minutes before the inspired Verdasco won 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.

But Nadal was not seeking excuses as he heads home to work towards his favourite Grand Slam at Roland Garros, where he is a nine-time champion, in late May.

"The match is a tough loss for me, especially because it's not like last year when I arrived here playing bad and feeling myself not ready for it," Nadal said.

"This year was a completely different story. I have been playing and practising great and working so much.

"You know it's tough when you work so much and arrive at a very important event and you're going out too early.

"It's tough, but at the same time, I know I did everything that I can to be ready for it. Was not my day. Let's keep going. That's the only thing.

"There is no more thing to do than keep practising hard, keep practising the same way that I was doing the last four, five months."

Nadal, who is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2015, said he was disappointed he was unable to replicate his form in training when he played Verdasco, a Davis Cup team-mate.

"That's it. I hope the next time I can compete better than what I did today, because I was playing good," he said.

It was one of the worst ever Grand Slam performances for Nadal, who also lost in the 2013 Wimbledon first round and has not won a major title since the 2014 French Open.

Nadal has now failed to go further that the quarter-finals in his last six Grand Slams, as well as missing the 2014 US Open through injury.

Nadal said he was facing new challenges, with world number one Novak Djokovic now dominating the Grand Slams and his rivals also beefing up their games.

"The game is changing a little bit. Everybody now tries to hit all the balls," he said.

"There are no balls that you can prepare for the point. Everybody hits the ball hard and try to go for the winners in any position.

"The game has become a little bit more crazy in this aspect. But the real thing is my mission is make them play with difficult positions.

"So if they want to go for lot of winners with very difficult positions, the chance of having success is not very high. So that's the mistake for me today."

His exit continues a series of heartbreaks at the year's first Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne.

He missed the 2006 and 2013 editions through injury, had to retire injured against Andy Murray in 2010, and in 2011 he was hit by a muscle strain during his defeat to David Ferrer.

And in 2014, Nadal was hit by a back problem when he lost to Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka in the final.

Of his 14 Grand Slam successes, only one has come in Melbourne, in 2009.

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