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 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.
The No. 2 seed hadn’t played a tour-level match since 7 September, when he had to retire from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro because of a knee injury.
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 an aggressive Duckworth to avoid his 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’m very, very happy to be through,” Nadal said. “Not easy to come bak after a lot of months… especially against a player, he’s playing super aggressive.”
Nadal will next meet Aussie Matthew Ebden or Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.