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No. 1 Australian Open seed Nadal out, 'Rafa Slam' officially derailed

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Rafael Nadal's bid to win four straight Grand Slam tournaments is over.

The injured Nadal lost for the second straight year in the Australian Open quarterfinals, going down 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 Wednesday to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.

Nadal, who appeared to have tears in his eyes during a changeover while trailing 3-0 in the third set, took a medical timeout for an apparent leg injury after three games. He was clearly out of sorts, failing to chase down balls that he would ordinarily return.

"This is a difficult day for me," Nadal said. "Today I can't do more than what I did, he played at a very high level."

Nadal, who didn't bother chasing the winner on match point, won last year's French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He was trying to add the Australian title and hold all four major trophies, which hasn't been achieved since Rod Laver won four in a row in 1969.

When pressed about the injury, Nadal said: "I don't have to tell you what I felt on the court, but it is obvious I did not feel at my best. I had a problem with the match at the very beginning, and after that, the match was almost over."

Last year, he retired against Andy Murray because of a right knee ailment that kept him off the tour for two months, again on the Australia Day national holiday.

Nadal picked up a virus two weeks ago in Doha at the start of the year. He sweated profusely in several of his matches. Nadal didn't want to elaborate on his injury, saying he didn't want to use injuries as an excuse.

"In general, I had a virus. When you have a virus, your body goes down and you have more risk of everything," he said. "That's probably what happened. That's the simple thing."

In other matches, Murray advanced with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3 win over unseeded Alexandr Dolgopolov after Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva advanced to the women's semifinals.

Clijsters had some nervous moments in her 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska. Zvonareva defeated Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-4.

The fireworks that would have lit up the tennis world had Nadal won his fourth in a row came Wednesday night during the match -- Australia Day celebrations forced a 10-minute interruption for a pyrotechnics show in the sky outside Rod Laver Arena.

As the fireworks exploded, Nadal changed his shirt and briefly left the stadium. He came back a couple of minutes later and took off his right shoe and rubbed his toes and sock.

After losing the second set, the usually fidgety Nadal slumped in his chair at the changeover, completely still with his head bent.

The crowd cheered almost exclusively for Nadal -- "Come on, Rafa" -- while often applauding Ferrer's errors.

"This is one big victory for me, but it's not like a victory really," seventh-seeded Ferrer said on court after the match. "He was playing with injury ... and I had luck. But I played my game."

Nadal appeared to be over his problems, saying after his fourth-round win over Marin Cilic that he was "perfect physically."

Murray won't have to get past Nadal this year, but he will have to beat Ferrer and either defending champion Roger Federer or 2008 champion Novak Djokovic to claim his first major title.

Clijsters advanced to a semifinal against No. 2 Zvonareva, whom she beat in the final at the U.S. Open last September. It will be the 10th tour meeting for the pair, with Clijsters holding a 6-3 advantage.

Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki plays Li Na of China in another semifinal Thursday, before Federer and third-seeded Djokovic meet in a night semifinal.

Dolgopolov had already beaten 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and French Open finalist Robin Soderling and has the kind of unorthodox game that can unsettle higher-ranked players.

Apart from the second set, when 2010 finalist Murray didn't lose a point on serve until he had triple set point, momentum swung frequently.

Dolgopolov had 77 unforced errors, mainly because he was trying to push Murray. In the first set, it took Murray more than 10 minutes and four set points to finally win the 12th game.

Murray spent a lot of time talking to himself.

"I was trying to get myself pumped up," Murray said. "It was very slow, cool conditions out on the court. You need to make sure you're moving your feet a lot when you're out there. You need to urge yourself to play a solid, stable match, not make too many mistakes."

Clijsters is the only Grand Slam winner into the women's semis, although she's still seeking her first major title outside of America.

"I hope the experience can help me a little bit," Clijsters said. "But there are some tough players out there, we have Nos. 1, 2, 3 still in and Li Na has been playing really well. So it is going to be really tough.

Zvonareva has lost the last two Grand Slam finals, to Clijsters in New York and Serena Williams at Wimbledon.

Clijsters was up a set and a break before Radwanska rallied, winning three straight games to lead 5-4 with a chance to serve for the second set.

Zvonareva wore a black ribbon on her hat in honor of the 35 victims of the suicide bombing at a Moscow airport this week. Her quarterfinal also featured a couple distractions.

Zvonareva and Kvitova were surprised when cannons went off in a nearby park. Zvonareva asked that the match be stopped for a few minutes while a woman in her sight line was given medical attention in the stands, but chair umpire Mariana Alves told them to play.

"I didn't know they were going to start this noise during our match, it was a difficult moment," said Zvonareva, who led the final set 3-0 before the disruptions but saw Kvitova level it at 4-4. "You're here to play tennis ... I was trying to keep my concentration."

A reflective Nadal pondered his loss in the quarterfinals again. He had two months off after the Australian Open last year because of the knee injury, and came back even stronger.

"Last year, I had a fantastic year," he said. "I think it is almost impossible to repeat that. I still hope to have a lot of really good moments."