Rafael Nadal's collapse in five-sets during the Australian Open quarter-final was made all the more remarkable considering he fell four points short of a Roger Federer record.
Nadal's uncharacteristically error-prone tiebreak in the third-set, which sparked a mammoth Stefanos Tsitsipas comeback, had many fans in disbelief.
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The Spaniard bullied his way through the first two-sets and looked like a man on a mission to reach the semi-final.
But after shanking a number of shots in the tiebreak, including an overhead smash, he dropped the third set.
However, tennis fans pointed out he was also just four points away from equalling Federer's 36 straight Grand Slam sets in a row.
This streak stretch back to the French Open, which Nadal cruised through.
Tsitsipas takes the third set in a tiebreak, ending Nadal’s streak of consecutive Slam sets won at 35. #AusOpen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) February 17, 2021
— Liz Clarke (@lizclarketweet) February 17, 2021
Nadal just played one of the most flawless sets of tennis I’ve ever seen... And then finished it off with one of the strangest tiebreakers I’ve ever seen. #AusOpen
— Peter Hooley (@PeterHooley12) February 17, 2021
On a bigger note for the Spaniard, he would be more disapoointed in overtaking Federer and becoming the men's tennis player with the most Grand Slam titles.
Nadal will now remain on 20 Grand Slams, alongside Federer, until they compete in the French Open.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, from such a commanding position, Nadal was classy in defeat.
Nadal classy in defeat
Nadal offered a classy response to his shock loss in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Wednesday night, refusing to blame quarantine for his early exit.
Nadal was made to wait for a shot at a record-breaking 21st major after Tsitsipas became just the second man in a grand slam to claw back a two-set deficit to beat him.
The World No.2 only his one trophy in Melbourne (2009), his worst return from all the majors.
There have been retirements, mid-match injuries, upsets and heartbreaking losses during his 16 trips to the Victorian capital, but the 34-year-old says that's just part of the game.
"It's difficult to know exactly why these kind of things happen," said Nadal, who had been bothered by a back injury in the lead-up to the tournament but said it was fine against Tsitsipas.
"The only thing that I can tell you is I always prepared the proper way to be ready for here."
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