MONTREAL — Rafa Nadal fluffed his lines on the return from five-week break when the Spanish tennis world number two was stunned 1-6, 7-6, 7-6 by unheralded Croatian Ivan Dodig in his opening match of the Montreal Masters on Wednesday.
Back in action for the first time since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final on July 3, Nadal had looked poised for a routine comeback victory after storming through the opening set of the second round encounter.
However, the 41st ranked Croatian had other ideas and would not be bullied by the muscular Mallorcan, matching Nadal shot-for-shot before ending the three-hour thriller with a backhand cross-court winner.
Despite an inconsistent performance, Nadal had his chances to seal the contest when he led 5-3 in the deciding set and served for the match, but the two-time champion on Canadian hard courts was unable to put away his stubborn opponent.
It was Nadal’s first opening match defeat in a tournament since Rome 2008.
The loss will be a blow to Nadal’s Flushing Meadows preparation, where the Spaniard will launch the defence of his US Open crown later this month.
“I don’t feel I played bad but in the decisive moments I didn’t play well,” Nadal told reporters. He didn’t feel the pressure in the important moments and at the end of the match, probably I was a little bit unlucky.
“I felt like I played well enough to win, but that’s tennis.”
The late night shock, provided an unexpected twist to the end of a day that had gone largely according to script, with 10 of the 13 seeds in action enjoying a safe passage into the third round.
Djokovic’s reign as world number one got off to a sluggish start as the Serb scrambled to a 7-5, 6-1 win over Russian Nikolay Davydenko, while Roger Federer entered his 30s with a clinical 7-5, 6-3 victory over Canadian Vasek Pospisil. —Reuters