‘Special to be back,’ Nadal says after win
No. 2 seed looks to be in good form in wake of lengthy injury layoff
MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal has missed a lot of tennis since September. He hasn’t missed a beat.
The No. 2seeded Nadal rolled to a 64, 63, 75 win over Australian wildcard entry James Duckworth on Monday in the first round of the Australian Open, his first match back in Rod Laver Arena since he had to retire in his quarterfinal match last year.
The 17time 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 problems 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 reach 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 two win all four majors at least twice.
Sharapova blanks foe: Maria Sharapova has the secondbest 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 60, 60 win over Harriet Dart.
The 2008 Australian Open champion got play started in 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 title ambitions, so she gets straight to business.
The 22yearold Dart, 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 doublefault in the second set. She got seven of her 29 points from Sharapova’s doublefaults.
Also advancing were 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 19 Caroline Garcia, No. 29 Donna Vekic and No. 31 Petra Martic.
Danielle Collins advanced to the second round of a major for the first time with a 26, 76 (5), 64 win over No. 14seeded Julia Goerges.
New tiebreaker system debuts: Katie Boulter earned the distinction of winning the first 10point tiebreaker under the Australian Open’s new system for deciding sets.
Boulter beat Ekaterina Makarova 60, 46, 76 (6), including 106 in the tiebreaker. The new rule was introduced to ensure matches don’t get too lengthy — previously the third set in women’s matches and the fifth set in men’s matches at the Australian Open had to be decided by a twogame advantage.
Maria Sharapova opened her 15th Australian Open and 55th Grand Slam tournament with an easy victory.