Rafael Nadal won't leave Melbourne with his second Australian Open title, as the Spanish superstar was eliminated from the 2016 edition of the tournament by Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday in the opening round.
ESPN Tennis passed along word of the loss:
And just like that Nadal is out. This is the first 1R loss the 2009 champ has suffered at the #AusOpen. https://t.co/e5VzSNOdYK2016-1-19 08:03:25
The former world No. 1 battled hard against his compatriot but eventually was downed 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(4), 2-6.
Nadal is hoping to put together a bounce-back season after a lacklustre 2015 campaign, at least by his typically high standards. Last year marked the first time since 2004 he didn't capture at least one of the Grand Slam titles.
His uncle Toni Nadal, who also serves as his coach, expressed optimism based on what he'd seen coming into the season, as noted by Mark Hodgkinson of ESPN.
"First of all, and this is the most important thing, is the tranquility. Rafael is much more comfortable on the court now," he said. "And in this moment, he thinks about what he needs to do, and then when he gets on the court that is what he does."
Nadal's results in the Doha warm-up event, where he marched to the final before getting beaten by top seed Novak Djokovic, gave some credence to those remarks.
The fact he was eliminated at the first hurdle at the Australian Open, though, is a big blow.
However, it is his least successful Grand Slam tournament based on titles, and the next one—the French Open—is his best. The tournament in Paris should provide a better feel for how his season will go.
Nadal has triumphed nine times on the clay courts of Roland Garros, which is more than any other player in history. So when he got knocked out in the quarterfinals in straight sets by Djokovic last year, it painted a worrisome picture. He proceeded to not make it out of the first week at the final two majors.
His results at this year's French Open could tell a similar tale, whether positive or negative.
Of course, there's still a lot of time before that arrives. The tournament doesn't kick off until late May, so Nadal must continue to showcase progress in smaller events and maintain his health over the next couple of months in order to head into his best major on a high note.
He's still capable of competing with anybody on tour when at full strength, but that search for top form has often been delayed by injuries over the years. That said, there's still a chance the 2016 season could feature a resurgence, even though he fell well short in Australia.