Nadal wins opener

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

No. 2-seeded Nadal had a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Aus­tralian wild-card en­try James Duck­worth on Mon­day in the first round of the Aus­tralian Open, his first match back on Rod Laver Arena since he had to re­tire in his quar­ter­fi­nal match last year.

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — Rafael Nadal has missed a lot of ten­nis since last Septem­ber, but he hasn’t missed a beat.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal had a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 vic­tory over Aus­tralian wild-card en­try James Duck­worth to­day in the first round of the Aus­tralian

Open, his first match back at Rod Laver

Arena since he had to re­tire in his quar­ter­fi­nal match last year.

The 17-time ma­jor win­ner hasn’t played since re­tir­ing from his semi­fi­nal at the U.S. Open be­cause of a knee in­jury, and then had surgery on his right an­kle in Novem­ber. He with­drew from a warmup tour­na­ment in Bris­bane in the first week of the sea­son be­cause of a mus­cle strain in his thigh.

“Not easy to come back after a lot of months of com­pe­ti­tion, es­pe­cially against a player play­ing su­per ag­gres­sive ev­ery shot,” Nadal said. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to start after an in­jury — I know it very well. It’s very spe­cial to be back.”

Wear­ing a sleeve­less top, he showed no signs of any is­sues against Duck­worth. His only hic­cup came when he served for the match in the ninth game of the third set and was bro­ken at love. He re­turned the fa­vor very quickly, though, to seal his spot in the sec­ond round.

Nadal has only lost twice in the first round at Grand Slams — to Steve Dar­cis at 2013 Wim­ble­don, and to Fer­nando Ver­dasco here in 2016 — and is aim­ing to be the first man in the Open era to win all four ma­jors at least twice.

Maria Shara­pova has the sec­ond-best record among ac­tive women’s play­ers in firstround matches at the ma­jors, and she gave an il­lus­tra­tion of why that’s the case with a ruth­less 6-0, 6-0 win over Har­riet Dart.

The 2008 Aus­tralian Open cham­pion got play started on Rod Laver Arena and needed only 63 min­utes to ad­vance.

In her 15th trip to Mel­bourne Park and her 55th Grand Slam tour­na­ment, she’s acutely aware of the toll that the sun and long early matches can have on a player’s ti­tle am­bi­tions, so she gets straight to busi­ness.

Dart, 22, play­ing in the main draw of a ma­jor for only the sec­ond time after get­ting a wild­card to play last year at Wim­ble­don, only got a look at one break point in the match — when Shara­pova served a dou­ble-fault in the sec­ond set. She got seven of her 29 points from Shara­pova’s dou­ble-faults.

Shara­pova said she was still feel­ing pain in her right shoul­der de­spite sit­ting out the end of last sea­son after the U.S.

Open.

Stung by a first-round loss at Wim­ble­don last year, Shara­pova said she couldn’t af­ford to feel any em­pa­thy for Dart.

“I mean, there is no time for that, I’m sorry to say … when you’re play­ing the first round of a Grand Slam,” she said. “I think I was just fo­cused on not hav­ing a let­down.

“I think it’s very easy to be in a po­si­tion where things are flow­ing, you know, you’re do­ing all the right things, she’s mak­ing a few er­rors, you’re com­fort­able, easy to get com­pla­cent, and, you know, com­pla­cency is not great. I was glad that I did the right things from the be­gin­ning till the end.”

Shara­pova

Nadal

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