Rafa Rolls In Australian Open Return
Rafael Nadal fans, exhale: Your man looked like himself.
The 2009 Australian Open champion, playing his first match of the year, looked in mid-season form on Monday against Aussie James Duckworth, beating the aggressive home favourite 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 to start his Australian Open.
Nadal chased down drop shots, sprinted through forehand winners and showed a bit of his usual celebrations, ending big points with emphatic fist pumps to the crowd. His lone blemish of the day came in the third set, when at 5-3, he failed to serve out the match. But Nadal recovered with a break in the 12th game.
“In general terms I am happy about the victory of today against... a very difficult opponent to play,” Nadal said. “Beginnings are tough, but every day helps and every day makes me feel better, makes me feel more confident.”
Nadal skipped the Asian swing to recover. At the Rolex Paris Masters, he had to withdraw before his first match because of an abdominal injury, and he shut down his season for good on 5 November following ankle surgery.
On Monday, however, those injuries all looked well in the past as the three-time Australian Open finalist overcame Duckworth to avoid another first-round exit in Melbourne (2016, l. to Verdasco). The 26-year-old Duckworth, No. 237 in the ATP Rankings, gambled against Nadal, nearly hitting more double faults (11) than aces (12) and charging the net 71 times, winning more than half of those attempts (54%).
“I played against a super-aggressive player... He went on court probably doing things that work well for him... give him some chances,” Nadal said. “He played smart and he played well. When you play against a player that he wants to hit all the shots, of course you can have breaks against [you], because [the match is] sometimes in his hands.”
Elsewhere, Czech Tomas Berdych, the recent Qatar ExxonMobil Open finalist (l. to Bautista Agut), knocked out No. 13 seed and last year’s semi-finalist Kyle Edmund 6-3, 6-0, 7-5. Berdych advanced to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park in 2014 and 2015.