Former champion Rafa Nadal showed no signs of discomfort from his thigh strain as he sailed through to the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-4 6-3 7-5 win over local hope James Duckworth on Monday.
The second-seeded Spaniard had pulled out of the Brisbane warmup with a thigh strain to raise doubts about his campaign but he allayed those fears on Rod Laver Arena against an error-prone opponent.
“It’s normal that beginnings are tough, but every day helps and every day makes me feel better, makes me feel more confident,” Nadal, whose 2018 season ended early with ankle surgery and an abdominal injury, told reporters.
“So that’s an important victory because (it) is the first victory since a while and at the same time… gives me the chance to be on court again. And that’s what I need.”
The first meeting between the 17-times Grand Slam champion, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2009, and Australian wildcard Duckworth, who is ranked 238 in the world, always had the potential to be an uneven contest.
But the 26-year-old Duckworth, who reached a career-high ranking of 82 in April, 2015, did not help his cause by looking to attack Nadal from the start and committing 40 unforced errors in the process, compared to just 11 from his opponent.
Nadal, who is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era, and only the third man ever, to win each of the four Grand Slams twice, ran his opponent down with his superior court coverage and ability to hit winners under pressure.
“I played against a super-aggressive player. Today he went on court with the determination to not play tennis the way I understand tennis,” Nadal told reporters.
“(It) is not a negative point. Not at all. Believe me. He went on court probably doing a thing that works well for him, and he gives himself some chances. And he played smart and he played well.”
Sporting a yellow sleeveless t-shirt and white shorts, Nadal hit his gear early by breaking Duckworth’s serve in the first game which was enough for him to take out the first set.
After an early trade of breaks in the second, Duckworth served his sixth double fault to go down a break and then lost the second set with his eighth.
Two brilliant winners in the sixth game, which brought about an animated celebration from the Spaniard, gave him a break and a 4-2 lead but Duckworth got the break back in the ninth game.
The Spaniard, who will next meet the winner of Australian Matthew Ebden’s contest with Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, broke Duckworth for the sixth time and brought an end to the match with a brilliant backhand pass.
In his pre-match news conference Nadal said he has brought a remodelled serve to Melbourne aimed at generating more pace. After losing two service games in the match, Nadal was pleased with it.
“My serve worked well. I don’t know my percentage, but was a lot of good positions after the first serve,” he said. “I felt solid with the second.”
John Isner toppled by taller Reilly Opelka
United States number one John Isner was sent crashing out of the first round of the Australian Open on Monday by compatriot Reilly Opelka 7-6(4) 7-6(6) 6-7(4) 7-6(5) in a battle of two of the game’s tallest players. Wimbledon semi-finalist Isner fell at the first hurdle at Melbourne Park for the second year in a row, having been beaten by unseeded Australian Matthew Ebden in a major shock last year.
The 21-year-old Opelka, an inch taller than the 6ft-10in Isner (2.08m), broke the ninth seed’s perfect 9-0 winning record against Americans at the Grand Slams in a match featuring 87 aces.
Isner, 33, was crestfallen to be booking an early flight out of Australia but said he would work through the disappointment.
“You keep working and put your head down and kind of disappear once I leave here and just work,” he told reporters. “And, you know, trust that that’s going to pay dividends for me in the future.”
Opelka will play 102nd ranked Italian journeyman Thomas Fabbiano for a place in the third round.
Roger Federer serves up dominant first-round win against Denis Istomin
Defending champion Roger Federer served straight through Denis Istomin to win their first-round encounter at the Australian Open on Monday, securing a 6-3 6-4 6-4 victory. Istomin, of Uzbekistan, has twice reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam and proved to be a worthy combatant from the back of the court with his heavy, aggressive, baseline game. But the Swiss third seed’s mountainous serve proved too big an obstacle for his opponent to climb and Federer was not seriously challenged in his own service games.
Federer will play British qualifier Dan Evans, ranked 189 in the world, in the second round. “I think I can trust my second serve in particular; when you trust your second serve, you can go after your first serve,” Federer told journalists. “I started to feel that midway through the first set it was going to be difficult for Denis to get into my service games. That relaxes you from the baseline. Then good things really happen.”
Both players had their share of momentum in the largely baseline affair. Federer, however, did not face a single break point during the match, such was his serving dominance. Federer broke Istomin’s serve once in each set.
After a conservative first set, Federer tickled the giddy crowd with an on-the-run, curling backhand pass in the third game of the second set which seemed to add rocket fuel to his groundstrokes for the remainder of the match.
The Swiss broke serve that game and Istomin never recovered. Federer and rival Novak Djokovic are both in search of a record seventh Australian Open title in Melbourne and, with it, a winner’s purse of A$4.1 million ($2.96 million).