SHANGHAI: World number one Rafael Nadal was on Thursday dumped out of the 3.24-million-dollar Shanghai Masters in the third round by Austrian 13th seed Jurgen Melzer.
It was only the ninth defeat of the season for the Spaniard, who came into this tournament on the heels of victory in the Japan Open last week.
It was also the first time since the 2009 French Open that he has failed to progress further than the third round: in the 21 tournaments since then, Nadal has reached at least the quarter-final stage.
"I felt slow on court, I had more mistakes than usual," Nadal said.
"I played shorter than usual. I was a little bit more tired just physically and mentally. I congratulate him and that’s it."
Despite never having taken a set off Nadal in their three previous encounters, Melzer stormed the first set here, winning 6-1.
Nadal claimed the second, 6-3, but the Austrian ranked 12th in the world rankings, took the third, decisive set 6-3 to set up a quarter-final against Juan Monaco.
"The key was to put a lot of pressure on him," Melzer said.
"You cannot let him play his game, you will always be second. That play with his forehand, he’s just too good."
Three straight weeks of play in Asia capped an exhausting year for Nadal, winner of seven titles including Tokyo last weekend and the last three grand slams.
Nadal takes a pause standing 67-9 on the season and will headline at the eight-man season finals in London from November 21.
Roger Federer, seeded third, easily beat Andreas Seppi, winning 6-3, 6-4 in a flawless display.
Andy Murray became the fourth man to qualify for the season’s final event as he defeated Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals.
Fellow London qualifier and world number two Novak Djokovic continued his red-hot form, with the two-time Beijing champion hammering Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-1.
"I’m feeling good on the court," said Djokovic, winner in Beijing before coming to Shanghai.
"I’m hitting the ball and playing better and better every day. So I’m just hoping that it’s going to stay that way in the upcoming rounds."
Murray, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer will now be among the eight players in the London finals.
"It’s a great achievement," the Scot said of his success.
"I’m obviously very happy to have done it with a few tournaments left. Today was a good match. I’m happy with how I played."
Murray saved the five break points he faced from the Frenchman, whom he has now defeated in all three of their meetings.
Robin Soderling, Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and injured Andy Roddick are the next four in the queue for London qualification.
But results over this week and the next four through to the end of the regular ATP season will decide the final line-up for the World Tour Finals.
Elsewhere in the third round on another rainy day, Swedish fifth seed Soderling beat Spaniard David Ferrer 7-5, 6-4 while number 15 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stopped Florian Mayer 7-5, 6-3 to lineup against Murray.
Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who beat Nadal in the Bangkok semis a fortnight ago, put out Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.