Tennis: Rafael Nadal suffers shock defeat in first match of season

Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal reacts after losing his tennis match against Michael Berrer of Germany in Qatar's ExxonMobil Open on Jan 6, 2015, in Doha. Berrer won the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal reacts after losing his tennis match against Michael Berrer of Germany in Qatar's ExxonMobil Open on Jan 6, 2015, in Doha. Berrer won the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. -- PHOTO: AFP 

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 match 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 won the first set at a canter, and then found himself quite unable to play anywhere near the standard he would have hoped for.

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.

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.

"It's one of the matches which will stay in my memory for ever, but let's be honest it was the first match for Rafa after injury," he said.

Earlier, Berrer commented: "What I've learned from my studies for my sports psychology masters degree is to avoid thinking about these things."

This was a reference to dealing with the pressure of closing out a career-best win against a legend.

"In the first set, it felt like the other matches against him," he added. "Then it became easy to attack because it was the only chance I had.

"It's also my last season and I had nothing to lose, and I'm enjoying it here - so why not?"

Berrer had plenty of time to think about answering that question, for he 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.

It not only cost Nadal the title here and raised doubts about his ability to make any sort of challenge for the Australian Open, but may cause questions about what sort of season this is going to be for him Earlier Novak Djokovic, who succeeded Nadal as world No. 1 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."