I am very happy to be through: Nadal

Melbourne: Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, made a winning return to tennis as he overcame James Duckworth in straight sets to reach the second round of the Australian Open.

Spanish second seed Nadal, 32, saw off the Australian 6-4 6-3 7-5 in two hours 16 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, despite a stubborn finish from Duckworth.

Rafael Nadal with a first-round victory over James Duckworth at the Australian Open.The Spaniard had not played a match since retiring during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro last August with knee pain. After an abdominal problem and ankle surgery ended his season early, he pulled out of the tournament in Brisbane last week with a minor thigh strain.

He entered the Open under an injury cloud, and is satisfied with the hit-out against Duckworth, as it gave him some much-needed match fitness. After the win, Nadal said in his on-court interview that he was pleased to start on a winning note in his comeback. “It’s not easy to come back after lot of months, and especially against a player who’s super aggressive. I’m very, very happy to be through.”

The men’s world number two began impressively to break Duckworth in the opening game of the match and eventually claim the first set in 39 minutes, but the Australian offered resistance in the second set when he secured a break of serve to establish a 2-0 lead. Nadal, a 17-time major winner, broke back immediately with games soon going back on serve, before he gained two more breaks to move ahead two sets to love.

The 237th-ranked Duckworth, who has been as high as 82 on the ATP Tour rankings, again displayed his fighting qualities when he broke Nadal after the Spaniard served for the match at 5-3.

He held serve to level at 5-5 but Nadal regrouped to win the next two games and progress to the second round.
The 32-year-old, who has reached the fourth round at Melbourne Park on three occasions, served 14 aces but made 38 unforced errors as he won his opening match in two hours 53 minutes.

“I am trying to be better and better every day,’ he said. ‘I had a good week of practice before this tournament. He will play either Australian Matthew Ebden or Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in the second round.

Disappointing outing

Prajnesh Gunneswaran’s maiden Grand Slam appearance ended in disappointment after American Frances Tiafoe defeated the Indian in straight sets in the opening round of the Australian
Open on Monday.

Tiafoe defeated Gunneswaran 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-3 to set up a second round clash with big South African Kevin Anderson. World No.39 American beat the Indian qualifier in a match that lasted an
hour and 52 minutes. Guuneswaran fought hard in the first set which went into the tie-breaker after both players held their serve till the 12th game.

In the tie-breaker, Tiafoe got a mini-break and then closed the set at 9-7. Once he won the first set, the American completely dominated the 106th ranked Indian in the second and third sets
respectively.

Prajnesh’s first serve let him down in the second set and his success rate was 43 percent compared to 72 per cent of the American. Tiafoe converted two break points in the third and sixth game of the second set to take it 6-3. In the final set, Tiafoe got an important break of serve against the left-handed Gunneswaran in the eighth game and then closed the match in the ninth game to end India’s lone challenge in the singles event.

In the women’s event, Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi failed to cross the early hurdle losing in the second and first round respectively in the qualifiers.

NT Bureau