At the Australian Open, the defending champion prevailed in a challenging first set against Draper.
With both hands raised, Rafael Nadal said, “unbelievable,” “Last year was…yeah…” He continued, joking, ” Sadly, that is long gone. And clearly so for the Spaniard.
If Nadal’s first-round victory at the 2022 Australian Open, which he won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 over Marcos Giron, was an emphatic statement, his first-round victory in the 2023 tournament at Melbourne Park, which he won 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 over the cramped Jack Draper, was less so.
However, on a sunny Monday afternoon in Rod Laver Arena, everyone could see that the defending champion was still trying to find rhythm in his game, fluidity in his movement, and a menacing feel to the ball.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion is aware of it as well because he hasn’t felt that way in six months since injuring his abdomen at Wimbledon.
Nadal lost six of his seven matches heading into his title defense in Melbourne, beginning with his exit from the US Open in the Round of 16.
This includes losing in three sets to Alex de Minaur and Cameron Norrie at the United Cup to start the season. Just a year ago, Nadal won the ATP 250 title in Melbourne in preparation for the Australian Open, his second victory.
Since returning from an injury hiatus. It developed into the “unbelievable” No. 21 championship at the season-opening Slam.
At that time, the first indications that Nadal would remain and shine were straight-set victories in the first two rounds before dropping the single set against the dangerous Karen Khachanov in the first week.
Of course, any top seed will find Draper to be a difficult first opponent. Especially Nadal, who isn’t used to playing against fellow southpaws.
The British world number 38 came into the match after winning the semi-final in Adelaide earlier this month. However, Nadal’s actions—or lack thereof—with his racquet emphasized the difference from last year.
The 36-year-old, who became a father in October of last year, stated in court that “if we put it in the perspective of what I’ve been through in the last six months, it was a positive start.”
“The main thing is that I needed to win. Doesn’t matter how,” he later told reporters. As I mentioned earlier, we knew it would not be perfect. Additionally, it was imperfect.
Not at all. A poor drop shot cost Draper the set after 11 games on serve in the first set. When Nadal’s racquet was mistakenly taken away by a ball boy for stringing. Nadal then took advantage of the opening to win the group.
In the second set, the 21-year-old was all over the Spaniard. Who made 14 unforced errors (Nadal had 46 for the match, which was more than Draper).
After regaining the break, Draper began to cramp up before the third set’s final game. He set up his opponent for a forehand that Nadal would typically put to bed (and with it, the set), serving 4-5 and in trouble at 0-30.
Instead, he timed it so badly that it almost hit the Rod Laver Arena’s bright blue ceiling. After a few lengthy deuce exchanges, the Spaniard was still able to win the set and the match against Draper. Who was physically unfit for a match?
However, that particular point was sufficient evidence to suggest that Rafa’s brutality might take some time to awaken.
He stated, “I was humble enough to accept that (there would be) a few ups and downs during the match.” a common occurrence when one is not in a winning mood.
Nadal and other greats, on the other hand, frequently get into a good mood when the big stage calls. A subpar Nadal may yet discover that in the coming weeks with additional court time. Competitive leg minutes, and efficiency in play.
“I’m up to the challenge.” He stated, “I’m prepared to continue fighting for it.” I won’t lie: winning bits of help. You feel better when you win matches. You are more self-assured. You are more likely to resist these situations.