Rafael Nadal has dispelled lingering fitness concerns in dispatching local hope James Duckworth in straight sets in the first round of the Australian Open.
Playing his first tour match since the 2018 US Open, the Spanish powerhouse won 6-4 6-3 7-5 in a match that lasted two hours and 15 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal pulled out of his US Open semi against Juan Martin del Potro due to knee pain before undergoing ankle surgery in November.
“It’s not easy to come back after a lot of months … especially against a player who is playing super-aggressive,” Nadal said on Monday.
“It’s always very difficult to start after the injuries.”
The 17-time major champion had 38 winners and only 11 unforced errors against the luckless Duckworth, who has undergone countless bouts of foot surgery in recent years.
The 26-year-old Australian won last month’s Open wildcard playoff to earn his way into the main draw.
But he has now crashed out at the first hurdle at the past four majors, each time to much higher-ranked opponents in Marin Cilic, Alexander Zverev, Andy Murray and now Nadal.
The second-seeded Nadal’s second-round opponent will be either another Australian, Matt Ebden, or Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.
Alex de Minaur is up and running at Melbourne Park, the teenage warrior kick-starting his Australian Open campaign with a straight-sets win over Pedro Sousa.
The Australian number one displayed no signs of any physical or mental fatigue from his gruelling weekend program at the Sydney International in comfortably progressing to round two with a 6-4 7-5 6-4 win on Monday.
Other opening round men’s draw matchups:
10-Karen Khachanov (RUS) bt Peter Gojowczyk (GER) 3-6 6-3 6-4 6-3
Q-Daniel Evans (GBR) bt Q-Tatsuma Ito (JPN) 7-5 6-1 7-6
Reilly Opelka (USA) bt 9-John Isner (USA) 7-6 7-6 6-7 7-6
Thomas Fabbiano (ITA) bt WC-Jason Kubler (AUS) 6-4 7-6(1) 2-6 6-3.
18-Diego Schwartzman (ARG) bt Q-Rudolf Molleker (GER) 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-0.
14-Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) bt Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 6-7 6-4 6-3 7-6
26-Fernando Verdasco (ESP) bt Q-Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB) 7-6 6-3 6-3
20-Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) bt Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) 4-6 6-3 6-1 6-4.
Robin Haase (NED) bt Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 7-5 6-4 7-5
Pablo Cuevas (URU) bt Dusan Lajovic (SRB) 6-4 7-5 6-1
Frances Tiafoe (USA) bt Q-Prajnesh Gunneswaran (IND) 7-6 6-3 6-3
5-Kevin Anderson (RSA) bt Adrian Mannarino (FRA) 6-3 5-7 6-2 6-1
Radu Albot (MDA) bt Michael Mmoh (USA) 3-6 6-3 6-4 6-2
Q-Stefano Travaglia (ITA) bt Guido Andreozzi (ARG) 6-7(3) 6-2 6-3 6-2
19-Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) bt Q-Christopher Eubanks (USA) 6-4 4-6 7-6 6-3