Rafael Nadal has started the defense of his Australian Open title with a bit of a struggle along the way to a four-set victory over a cramping Jack Draper
Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand return to Jack Draper of Britain during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)AARON FAVILA
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal never truly seemed in danger of becoming the first Australian Open defending men’s champion to lose in the first round since his current coach, Carlos Moya, managed to beat Boris Becker a quarter of a century ago.
Still, this was not a vintage performance by Nadal, who came into Monday’s matchup against 21-year-old Jack Draper with an 0-2 record in 2023 and six losses in his past seven outings overall. After nearly two hours of so-so play, Nadal found himself even at a set apiece.
He appeared to be pulling away, taking advantage of his opponent’s bout with cramps on an afternoon with the temperature at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), when suddenly Draper went up by a break in the fourth set. From there, though, Nadal would not drop another game, beginning his pursuit of a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam championship with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 win that took more than 3 1/2 hours in Rod Laver Arena.
“I need a victory, so that’s the main thing,” Nadal said. “Doesn’t matter the way.”
That’s good, then, because the 36-year-old from Spain was not in peak form. All in all, it was a bit of a struggle. He tried to put a silver-lining spin on things, nonetheless, given his recent track record and knowing that he tore an abdominal muscle twice in the past six months.