Shanghai:David Ferrer beat Rafael Nadal at his own game, upsetting the second-ranked Spaniard 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Tuesday at the season-ending Masters Cup.
Spanish fans, who draped several of their national flags around the indoor arena, had their loyalties divided as Nadal and Ferrer faced off in the round-robin part of the tournament that features the top eight men's singles players.
With Nadal a lefty, the two men played like mirror images with their preference for the baseline, sharply angled winners and refusal to give up on almost every shot.
Showing little respect for each other's serves, the two players combined for five service breaks in the first set, and Ferrer didn't hold serve until his fourth attempt. Nadal finished off the set when Ferrer committed his 14th unforced error off his usually reliable forehand.
Ferrer pulled himself together and broke to move ahead at 5-3 and serve for the second set, only to be left muttering to himself after Nadal broke back at love, the last three points coming on clean winners. But he shrugged off the setback to break and even in the next game when Nadal sent a forehand long.
From 1-1 in the third set, Ferrer ran off four straight games. With both men breathing hard from exertion, Ferrer served for the match, only to see Nadal break and fend off a match point in his next service game to pull within 5-3.
Ferrer then held at love, finishing the match when Nadal tried a drop shot that hung up a little too long, giving Ferrer enough time to smack a backhand cross-court winner, then drop on his back in relief.
Ferrer ran his record to 2-0 in the Gold Group, while Nadal fell into a tie with France's Richard Gasquet at 1-1. The eighth-ranked Gasquet earlier upset No. 3 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-2, virtually ending the Serbian player's run.
The 20-year-old Djokovic, the crowd favorite early, looked off in every phase of his game, overhitting his usually reliable forehand and having trouble with his strong serve to fall to 0-2.
He started off listless and was increasingly disconsolate as the match wore on. He was mathematically eliminated from any chance of reaching the semifinals.
Djokovic said he had nothing left after playing more than 100 matches this year.
"Unfortunately again, I couldn't be even close to my level," he said. "I was frustrated because of that. I didn't feel so well physically, and mentally I just couldn't ... be so confident on the court. I didn't find any solutions.
"He was playing well, " Djokovic said of Gasquet. "He's a very talented player and he's playing smart."
Gasquet, the last player to make the elite field, used his backhand, one of the best in the game, to rebound from an opening loss to Nadal.
"Today I had nothing to lose," Gasquet said. "I just had to enjoy the moment to play in the Masters Cup and just to play my game. I did a perfect match. I played a lot of amazing shots with my backhand."
After Djokovic held serve to open the match, Gasquet ran off four games in a row to take command. Djokovic got one break back, but was left to look forlornly toward his supporters for some kind of answers as Gasquet held at love to take the set.
The second set was much of the same, with Gasquet breaking three more times.
Djokovic, who tossed his racket in frustration twice, won only six of his 19 service points in the set and hit a backhand wide for his 27th unforced error on match point.
Top-ranked Roger Federer lost his opening match on Monday, going down to No 7 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5 to snap his 15-0 record in round-robin play at the season-ending tournament.