Rafael Nadal marked his return to the ATP Tour in style Sunday, downing American qualifier Maxime Cressy 7-6(6), 6-3 to lift the Melbourne Summer Set trophy.
The Spaniard was playing for the first time since August this week after a foot injury curtailed his 2021 season. However, the World No. 6 showed little sign of rustiness in Melbourne, not dropping a set at the ATP 250 event to earn his 89th tour-level crown.
“I want to thank all the organisation here,” Nadal said during the trophy ceremony. “I feel privileged and a very lucky guy to be here again. I am coming back from some challenging moments in terms of injuries, so I can’t be happier. It means a lot to be back and with a trophy in my hands.”
In an entertaining match, Cressy attacked Nadal with his high-flying serve-and-volley game, but the Spaniard returned well throughout and showed great fight. The 35-year-old saved a set point in the first-set tie-break and rallied from a break down in the second set, before eventually triumphing after one hour and 44 minutes.
“This court has always been very, very special for me,” Nadal said. “The Rod Laver Arena is very, very special for everyone and it is more special because of you guys. You guys are a great crowd and I can’t thank you enough.”
Nadal was competing in his first final on Australian soil since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open championship match in 2019. With his victory, the top seed has now continued his run of clinching at least one tour-level title every year since 2004.
In their first ATP Head2Head meeting, little separated the pair in the first set, with Cressy raising his level in the key moments as he saved all five break points he faced to force a tie-break. Nadal looked to penetrate from the baseline with his heavy topspin forehand and tried to find the toes of Cressy on return, but the World No. 112 held firm and moved to set point at 6/5 in the tie-break.
However, he was unable to find another first serve in the set, with Nadal capitalising to move ahead. The Spaniard then rallied from a break down in the second set, firing seven aces in the set to secure his victory.
Cressy was competing in his first tour-level final after standout wins over second seed Reilly Opelka, against whome he saved two match points, and third seed Grigor Dimitrov. Cressy will rise into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time on Monday following his dream run in Melbourne.