By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former champion Rafa Nadal showed no signs of discomfort from his thigh strain as he sailed through to the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-4 6-3 7-5 win over local hope James Duckworth on Monday.
The second-seeded Spaniard had pulled out of the Brisbane warmup with a thigh strain to raise doubts about his campaign but he allayed those fears on Rod Laver Arena against an error-prone opponent.
“It’s normal that beginnings are tough, but every day helps and every day makes me feel better, makes me feel more confident,” Nadal, whose 2018 season ended early with ankle surgery and an abdominal injury, told reporters.
“So that’s an important victory because (it) is the first victory since a while and at the same time… gives me the chance to be on court again. And that’s what I need.”
The first meeting between the 17-times Grand Slam champion, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2009, and Australian wildcard Duckworth, who is ranked 238 in the world, always had the potential to be an uneven contest.
But the 26-year-old Duckworth, who reached a career-high ranking of 82 in April, 2015, did not help his cause by looking to attack Nadal from the start and committing 40 unforced errors in the process, compared to just 11 from his opponent.
Nadal, who is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era, and only the third man ever, to win each of the four Grand Slams twice, ran his opponent down with his superior court coverage and ability to hit winners under pressure.
“I played against a super-aggressive player. Today he went on court with the determination to not play tennis the way I understand tennis,” Nadal told reporters.
“(It) is not a negative point. Not at all. Believe me. He went on court probably doing a thing that works well for him, and he gives himself some chances. And he played smart and he played well.”
Sporting a yellow sleeveless t-shirt and white shorts, Nadal hit his gear early by breaking Duckworth’s serve in the first game which was enough for him to take out the first set.
After an early trade of breaks in the second, Duckworth served his sixth double fault to go down a break and then lost the second set with his eighth.
Two brilliant winners in the sixth game, which brought about an animated celebration from the Spaniard, gave him a break and a 4-2 lead but Duckworth got the break back in the ninth game.
The Spaniard, who will next meet the winner of Australian Matthew Ebden’s contest with Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, broke Duckworth for the sixth time and brought an end to the match with a brilliant backhand pass.
In his pre-match news conference Nadal said he has brought a remodelled serve to Melbourne aimed at generating more pace. After losing two service games in the match, Nadal was pleased with it.
“My serve worked well. I don’t know my percentage, but was a lot of good positions after the first serve,” he said. “I felt solid with the second.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney/Amlan Chakraborty)