Update: Rafael Nadal struggles at times in Aussie opener but prevails in 4 sets
MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal never really looked in danger of becoming the first defending Australian Open champion to lose in the first round since his current coach Carlos Moya defeated Boris Becker a quarter of a century ago.
Still, it wasn’t a peak performance for Nadal, who entered Monday’s match against 21-year-old Jack Draper 0-2 in 2023 with six losses in his last seven matches. After almost two hours of so-so play, Nadal found himself in the set.
He appeared to be pulling back, taking advantage of his opponent’s bout with cramps on an 85-degree-Fahrenheit afternoon when suddenly Draper went up a break in the fourth set. From there, however, Nadal did not drop another game and began his pursuit of a record 23rd Grand Slam championship with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory that took more than 3.5 hours in Rod. Laver Arena.
“I need a win, so that’s the main thing,” Nadal said. “The method doesn’t matter.”
That’s a good thing, because the 36-year-old Spaniard from Spain has not been in top form. Overall it was a bit of a struggle. However, he tried to turn things around with a silver lining, given his recent record and the knowledge that he has torn his abs twice in the past six months.
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“I was humble enough to accept that there will be little fluctuations during the match,” Nadal said. “[That’s] a typical thing when you’re not in a winning mood.”
Both men are left-handed, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end, whether it’s style or age or experience or accomplishments.
Nadal, who is the No. 1 seed with top seed Carlos Alcaraz sidelined with injury, will be making his 67th Grand Slam appearance. Draper, who entered this week at a career-best No. 38, was making his fourth trip to a major and his best performance was reaching the third round at the US Open last September.
Draper also showed problems with steamy conditions: In his ATP Tour debut at the Miami Open in March 2021, he collapsed on court and had to retire after one set.
This time, signs of trouble appeared early and Draper was treated by a trainer during the substitution. Later he massaged his right thigh between points.
Nadal, unsurprisingly, wore Draper from the baseline and engaged in exchanges before finding an opening to flick a big forehand one way or another.
Last year was undoubtedly one of the most emotional tournaments of my tennis career. There’s no doubt about that,” said Nadal, who came back from a two-set deficit against Daniil Medvedev in the final to win the trophy. But unfortunately that [is in the past], so we have to keep working.
His next opponent will be Mackie McDonald, a former NCAA champion at UCLA who won an All-American match with Brandon Nakashima that lasted four hours, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 1-6, 6-7 (10), score 6-4.
In other results on Monday, American Frances Tiafoe, seeded 16th, defeated Germany’s Daniel Altmaier 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6) to reach the second round of the Australian Open for the fifth time. his career.
Other men to advance included No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime, No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz and No. 20 Denis Shapovalov. Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion and runner-up to Melbourne the past two years, on the night he outlasted Marcos Giron of the USA 6-0, 6-1, 6-2.
Americans Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff and Danielle Collins, the 2022 runner-up at Melbourne Park, all advanced to the second round of the women’s event on Monday. Other advancers included 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu and sixth seed Maria Sakkari, while two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka got past 2020 champion Sofia Kenin 6-4, 7-6 (3).
The biggest surprise of the day was the withdrawal ASA of Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios, who needs surgery on his left knee.
“Obviously I’m devastated,” said Kyrgios, the 27-year-old from Australia who won the men’s doubles championship at Melbourne Park a year ago.
No. 3 seed Pegula defeated Jaqueline Cristian of Romania 6-0, 6-1 in just 59 minutes, No. 7 Gauff overcame a second-set wobble to defeat Kateřina Siniakova 6-1, 6-4 and No. 13. Collins was treated and taped left knee while defeating Anna Kalinskaya 7–5, 5–7, 6–4.
Pegula and Gauff could meet in the semifinals; Collins could play No. 1 Iga Swiatek — who was scheduled to play later Monday — in the fourth round.
“Today is just one of those days where everything worked out,” said Pegula, a quarter-finalist in Melbourne the past two years. “You always feel good when you win a game like that. I think when those days come, you just take it and you don’t complain fDS and you don’t criticize. You just move on to the next one.” Of The Best option.