MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal never truly seemed in danger of becoming the first Australian Open defending men’s champion to lose in the first round since his current coach, Carlos Moya, managed to beat Boris Becker a quarter of a century ago.
Still, this was not a vintage performance by Nadal, who came into Monday’s matchup of left-handers against 21-year-old Jack Draper with an 0-2 record in 2023 and six losses in his past seven outings overall. After nearly two hours of so-so play, Nadal found himself even at a set apiece.
He appeared to be pulling away, taking advantage of his opponent’s bout with cramps on an afternoon with the temperature at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), when suddenly Draper went up by a break in the fourth set. From there, though, Nadal would not drop another game, beginning his pursuit of a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam championship with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory that took more than 3 1/2 hours in Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal was not in peak form. All in all, it was a bit of a struggle. He tried to put a silver-lining spin on things, nonetheless.
“If we put in perspective all the situation that I went through the last six months,” the 36-year-old from Spain said, “I think it was a very positive start.”
Americans Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff and Danielle Collins, the 2022 runner-up at Melbourne Park, all reached the second round in the women’s bracket with victories earlier Monday.
The biggest surprise of the day was the withdrawal of Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios, who needs surgery on his left knee.
___ AP freelancer Simon Cambers contributed to this report.
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