MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal wiped the tears from his eyes with his taped-up fingers.
His Rafa Slam was evaporating. The 25-match winning streak in Grand Slams and his bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles at once was three games from ending.
He was hurt. He was down two sets and a break. It was the same court, and the same round where he retired in the Australian Open last year. Yet the idea of packing it in didn't even enter his mind.
"I hate the retirements," he said, "This wasn't the day. I did last year. I hate that moment. ... Didn't want to repeat that."
Six games later, Nadal was out of the tournament, losing 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer on Wednesday night in Rod Laver Arena, the center court at Melbourne Park named after the Australian great whose four consecutive majors he was trying to match.
"It's a victory for me. But it's not a victory really," Ferrer said.
Laver, the Australian great who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., was surprised to hear of Nadal's loss.
"I'll be darned," Laver said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "I thought he'd come all the way through but he didn't. They were all counting that he was going to be the defending champion in all four tournaments.
"That's disappointing for him, really," Laver said. "In a way, that was an effort to put all those tournaments together through last year. It really was a good performance. I had him as being favored, even to beat Federer, the way he was playing. He just has got a game that's difficult for Roger."
Laver is the last man to win a true Grand Slam, made up of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in a calendar year. He did it twice, as an amateur in 1962 and again in 1969.
Again, it was Australia Day. Again, Nadal's match was interrupted by fireworks for the national day celebrations. Again, the match was a dud.
Nadal received treatment to his upper left thigh after the third game. He had the thigh heavily strapped. He needed treatment again after the first set.
"I can say nothing about the injury," he said after the match. "Seriously, I would prefer don't talk a lot about the injury."
"Tonight, first of all, I don't know nothing. Second thing, for respect to the winner and to a friend, I prefer to talk about the match. I think he played at a very high level. I just congratulate him and wish him all the best for the semifinal."
He was later quoted in Spanish as saying he had a small tear in a muscle in his upper left leg.
Ferrer will meet 2010 finalist Andy Murray in the semifinals. It was Murray who was leading Nadal by two sets and a break last year when the Spaniard withdrew with an injured right knee.
Murray had a struggle on his hands Wednesday, constantly trying to find his rhythm against Alexandr Dolgopolov before advancing 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3.
Dolgopolov had already beaten 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and French Open finalist Robin Soderling and had the kind of unorthodox game that can unsettle higher-ranked players.
Apart from the second set, when Murray didn't lose a point on serve until he had triple set point, momentum swung wildly.
But Murray held firm in the end and thinks it will help him in the semifinals.
Murray lost the final here in straight sets last year to Roger Federer. He's a more experienced and accomplished player this year. And there's no certainty Federer will be in his path, anyway.
The defending champion plays his semifinal Thursday night against Novak Djokovic, who beat him in the semifinals here in 2008 en route to the title. No. 3-ranked Djokovic also beat Federer in the semifinals of the last U.S. Open, after saving two match points.
Nadal went on to win the U.S. Open and complete a career Grand Slam in all four majors. Between them, Nadal and Federer had combined to win 21 of the last 23 majors. Now, Federer is alone in the draw.
Kim Clijsters has won the U.S. Open three times, including the last two since she returned in 2009 from more than two years in retirement to get married and have a child.
On Thursday, she meets No. 2 Vera Zvonareva in a rematch of the U.S. Open final. Zvonareva has reached the last two Grand Slam finals, but has yet to win a major. Clijsters is aiming for her first major outside of U.S. soil — she reached the 2004 final here, only to lose to fellow Belgian Justine Henin.