Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the clock.
And Tomas Berdych walked away with the prize.
A capacity Margaret Court Arena saw seven Australian Open hopefuls – headlined by world No.1 Nadal – and Hewitt in the first Australian staging of ‘Tie Break Tens’ on Wednesday night.
The format sees a condensed eight-player knockout tournament played over a single evening. Berdych, the world No.20, won the final tiebreak 10-5 over Nadal.
The Spaniard’s fitness has been in question leading up to the year’s first grand slam after pulling out of the Brisbane International last week due to knee soreness.
But with US$250,000 ($A318,000) on the line, Nadal stepped it up from his pedestrian outing at the Kooyong Classic on Monday.
At Kooyong, Nadal was beaten 6-4 7-5 by Richard Gasquet – a man he has beaten in every competitive meeting dating back to 2003.
On Wednesday night, he steamrolled Lucas Pouille 10-1 with stunning strokeplay and overcame a dogged Hewitt 12-10 to reach the final.
Hewitt, who has retired from tennis but will make a swan song at this year’s Open in the doubles, delighted the crowd by dismissing returning champion Novak Djokovic.
“When you retire you miss playing at the big arenas in front of big crowds,” he said.
“This format allows me to come out here and win a few points against the best players in the world.”
Raonic was a last-minute fill-in for Wawrinka, who withdrew due off the back of a knee injury that crippled his 2017 season.
The Swiss has said he will not compete in the Open if there is any risk to the long-term rehabilitation of his knee.
The cheque is worth more than a fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open – meaning the Czech must make the second week of the grand slam to better his night out.
Put another way, Berdych earned in 51 points what last year’s winner Roger Federer took 148 games to win last year on his way to claiming the Australian Open.