Verdasco stumbles down under

Nadal, Almagro and López safely through to Australian Open second round

Spain's Rafael Nadal, Nicolás Almagro, Feliciano López and Pere Riba all safely negotiated their first-round matches on the opening day of this year's Australian Open. Not so lucky was number 22 seed Fernando Verdasco, who let slip a two-set lead over young Australian Bernard Tomic to lose 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 in over four hours on Monday.

It was the first time the Madrileño had crashed out of a Grand Slam event in the opening round since 2004. Playing in tough conditions of 30ºC-plus temperatures and gusty winds, Verdasco put in an patchy display, his impressive number of aces (15) negated by a shameful sum of double faults (11).

"He played well," the Spaniard admitted of his 19-year-old opponent, who surprised many when reaching the quarterfinals at last year's Wimbledon as a qualifier. "I don't want to take away the credit, but from the end of the second set onward I started to feel sick, with stomach pains and a bit of dizziness. It was very hot."

There were some worried glances when Rafael Nadal appeared on court for his opening match against US qualifier Alex Kuznetsov. The number two seed had his right knee bandaged, after hearing it crack and feeling an "unbelievable" pain on Sunday afternoon while doing nothing more strenuous than sitting in a chair. A MRI scan revealed no damage, but the Mallorcan was taking nothing for granted.

However, after a cautious start, he finished in fine form, hitting 42 winners in a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory in barely two hours. "I started the match with a little bit of a scare at the beginning and nervous because I was really disappointed yesterday," the 2009 Australian Open champion said.

"But after the first 10 games, which were scary, I started to play normally. [...] I was ready to play and I played a fantastic match."

Nadal, keen to claw back some of the ground lost to world number one Novak Djokovic last season, is looking to recover the wilder, less predictable side of his game in Melbourne and has made the switch to a heavier racket. Having got through Monday's scare, he's feeling confident about facing German-American Tommy Haas, the former world number two and at 33, the oldest player in the men's singles contest, in the second round. "I am really confident that having the worst feeling that I ever had in my knee yesterday, I was able to play today," Nadal said. "I have fantastic hope that is going to be the same for [the day] after tomorrow."

Nicolás Almagro put something of a ghost to rest in his 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-5 win over Lukasz Kubot. It was the Pole who ended a hopeful Almagro's dreams in the first round of last year's French Open. And the same constant pressure and ferocity was on display from the 58-ranked Kubot in the first set.

"But I," said number 10 seed Almagro after the match, "have learnt not to anticipate things, and not to think about the past, because it doesn't help much. That's where I left what happened at Roland Garros. You have to hold on to matches like a lion."

Elsewhere, Feliciano López dispatched Argentina's Leonardo Mayer, 7-6, 6-3, 7-6, while Pere Riba saw off fellow Spaniard Albert Montañés, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6. World number 67 Albert Ramos managed to take one set off Czech number seven seed Tomas Berdych, but the Catalan ultimately fell 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Newly crowned Auckland champion David Ferrer still has his first-round match against Rui Machado to play. Meanwhile, third seed Roger Federer, who could meet Nadal in the semis of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2005, sailed through his opening game against Russia's Alexander Kudryavtsev, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

In the women's singles, Spanish 26th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues beat Eva Birnerova of the Czech Republic, 6-3 6-3.

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