DOHA (AFP) – Rafael Nadal’s ability to make a quick recovery from multiple ailments was thrown into doubt Tuesday as he lost 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Michael Berrer in Qatar.
This first round match was Nadal’s first of the 2015 ATP World Tour and he appeared to have had insufficient time to recover from an appendectomy, and far too little match practice over the last two months.
Nevertheless, it was a humiliating outcome for one of the most successful players of all time, who had won the first set at a canter before his game crumbled.
Berrer is a 34-year-old qualifier ranked outside the top 100 who is playing the last season of his career.
Nadal has also been suffering from back and wrist injuries, which reduced his service speed greatly.
And he appeared to cast doubt on his ability to take part, let alone be a contender at the Australian Open, which begins in less than two weeks.
Berrer had only taken four games in four sets off Nadal in their previous two meetings, but recognised a career-greatest opportunity and in patches responded by raising his standards to new heights. He was also admirably frank in his assessment.
Berrer broke early in the final set and led 3-1, sometimes finding angles which perhaps only a fellow lefty could manage against Nadal.
The French Open champion almost broke back immediately, but a Hawkeye decision showed his ground stroke to have landed a millimetre beyond the baseline, and his only real chance after that came in the final game.
That saw Berrer slip to 15-40, only to produce two good first serves, and then go break back point down by delivering a double fault, before attacking the net on each of the last three points and finding Nadal unable to come up with any of those rasping passing shots for which he has become so renowned.
Earlier Novak Djokovic, who succeeded Nadal as world number one in June, made a satisfactory start with a 6-1, 6-4 win over his Serbian compatriot Dusan Lajovic.
“I didn’t know during the last couple of days whether I would be able to play,” Djokovic said, referring to the fever he has had. “So in the circumstances it was a very good start.”