ACAPULCO (Mexico) • World No. 6 Rafael Nadal's attempt to claim his first tennis tournament of the year came unstuck in the final of the ATP Mexican Open on Saturday.
The second seed, playing in his first event since falling to Roger Federer in five sets in the Australian Open final, lost 3-6, 6-7 (3-7) to unseeded American Sam Querrey.
The Spaniard, the 2005 and 2013 champion who had never even lost a set in Acapulco, was pulverised by Querrey, ranked 40th in the world.
Querrey fired 19 aces and backed up his big serving with precise groundstrokes en route to his first victory over Nadal in five meetings.
"He played very well, almost reaching perfection," said Nadal, who was denied his first hard-court singles title since Doha in 2014.
Querrey surrendered just four points on his serve in the opening set and broke Nadal at love to seize a 5-3 advantage.
Number of sets Rafael Nadal dropped in three Mexican Open tournaments. Both were in Saturday's final against Sam Querrey.
He served it out comfortably, firing a forehand winner on his second set point after just half an hour.
Nadal made more inroads in the second set, but could not convert any of his six break chances, including five in the eighth game - three of which Querrey saved with aces.
They went on serve to the tiebreaker, where Nadal faltered first.
A brace of baseline errors from the 14-time Major champion gave Querrey a 6-3 lead. Nadal then sent a forehand long on the American's first match point.
"I'm ecstatic," said Querrey, who captured his ninth ATP title and is set to return to the world's top 30 today. "To do it against Rafa makes it even a little sweeter."
Andy Murray solidified his position at the top of the world rankings with a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Spain's Fernando Verdasco to win the Dubai Tennis Championships on Saturday. The 29-year-old claimed that trophy for the first time, having finished runner-up to Federer in 2012.
The Scot now heads to Los Angeles to prepare for the start of the Indian Wells Masters on Thursday.
"This week has given me great momentum which I hope to use going to Indian Wells and Miami," he said after claiming his 45th career title.
He was playing in his 14th final in his last 16 tournaments.
He holds a healthy 1,805-point lead over No. 2 Novak Djokovoic in the world rankings, with the off-form Serb facing immense pressure to retain both titles in Indian Wells and Miami.
In another blow to Djokovic, his former mentor Niki Pilic said on Saturday that the 12-time Major champion has lost the tenacity which enabled him to rule the men's game for a number of years.
Last week, Djokovic was beaten by Australian Nick Kyrgios in the quarter-finals in Acapulco, prompting Pilic to cast doubts whether Djokovic can reclaim the top spot.
"Novak had a physical and mental edge second to none, he was in sixth gear," Pilic, who guided the Serb as a junior at his Munich academy, told Bosnian daily Nezavisne. "That tenacity is no longer the same. It remains to be seen whether he can rediscover it and get back to the top level."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS