MELBOURNE, Australia — 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 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, 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 3½ 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.”
Both men are left-handers, but that is pretty much where the similarities end, whether in terms of style or age or experience or accomplishments.
Nadal, who is seeded No. 1 because top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz is sidelined with an injury, is appearing in his 67th Grand Slam tournament. Draper, ranked a career-best No. 38 this week, was making his fourth trip to a major and his best showing was getting to the third round at the US Open last September.
Draper also has shown problems dealing with steamy conditions: In his ATP Tour debut at the Miami Open in March 2021, he collapsed on court and needed to stop playing after one set.
This time, signs of trouble showed up early, and Draper was treated by a trainer during changeovers. Later, he massaged his right thigh between points.
Nadal, not surprisingly, wore Draper down from the baseline, engaging in exchanges before finding an opening to yank a big forehand this way or that.
“Last year has been, without a doubt, one of the most emotional tournaments of my tennis career. No doubt about that,” said Nadal, who came back from a two-set deficit against Daniil Medvedev in the final to win the trophy. “But unfortunately, that (is in the past), so we need to keep working.”
His next opponent will be Mackie McDonald, a past NCAA champion at UCLA who won an all-American matchup against Brandon Nakashima that lasted 4 hours by a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 1-6, 6-7 (10), 6-4 score.
In other results from Monday, American Frances Tiafoe, seeded 16th, defeated Germany’s Daniel Altmaier 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6) to reach the Australian Open second round for the fifth time in his career.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Rafael Nadal overcomes error-strewn performances and cramping Jack Draper at Australian Open
Defending champion Rafael Nadal was far from his best as he produced an error-laden performance during his opening-round victory over Jack Draper at the Australian Open.
The draw had handed 21-year-old rising British star Draper a blockbuster clash with his childhood idol on his debut at Melbourne Park, and an opportunity to really break through onto the world stage given Nadal’s poor form.
A run of six defeats from seven matches heading into the year’s first Grand Slam was the worst of his career and a tally of 45 unforced errors showed that this was far from vintage Nadal.
Draper looked capable of causing the upset when he took the second set on Rod Laver Arena but physical struggles have hampered his career so far and he began to cramp in the third set before hobbling through the final stages of a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 defeat.
Draper copied Nadal’s look as a child but also modelled his game around his hero, including playing left-handed even though he is naturally right-handed.
Draper’s former coach Justin Sherring told the Daily Telegraph: “We used to base a lot of our game development around Rafa. The things we tried to emulate were not just the lefty style but also the technique, hunger and fighting spirit.”
The influence is clear in Draper’s heavy topspin forehand and solid backhand hit predominantly cross-court but occasionally, and explosively, down the line.
He settled well into the contest, facing only one break point before a poorly executed drop shot enabled Nadal to claim the opening set.
The top seed pumped his fists in celebration, an indication that it was a big moment for him as he tries to play himself back into form, but he went completely off the boil at the start of the second set.
Mistakes flowed from the Nadal racket and Draper, who might even have taken the set 6-0, did not need to do anything spectacular to level the contest amid a couple of very brief rain delays.
Nadal admitted ahead of the tournament that a lack of wins had left him feeling more vulnerable than usual but he spoke confidently about his form in practice and belief that it would translate to the match court.
The defending champion had an animated exchange with his team sat courtside ahead of the third set and there was greater assertiveness about his game thereafter.
He was helped by Draper beginning to flag physically, his serve and shots noticeably lacking the same pop.
A wayward double fault from the British player handed Nadal a break for 3-1 but the 22-time grand slam champion was still producing plenty of uncharacteristic errors and he gave the advantage back with a terrible game at 4-2.
Draper was unable to keep the pressure on, though, saving one set point with an ace in the 10th game but pushing a backhand just wide on the second.
He took a long break to change his outfit and offered hope of a comeback with a break of the Nadal serve in the opening game of the fourth set but the Spaniard was at last playing a little better and he hit straight back.
During a long point in the fourth game, Draper began to cramp again, and he was completely hamstrung during the formalities of the final few games.
Rafael Nadal victorious at Australian Open but heartbreak for Nick Kyrgios
Rafael Nadal launched his Australian Open title defense with a four-set victory over Britain’s Jack Draper as home hope Nick Kyrgios exited through injury without hitting a ball.
In the women’s draw, in-form Jessica Pegula and teenage prodigy Coco Gauff were both emphatic winners on the first day of the opening Grand Slam of the year.
Spanish great Nadal, 36, had been in poor form by his sky-high standards, losing six of his last seven matches stretching back to defeat in the last 16 at the U.S. Open.
In fast-rising Draper, 21, the 22-time Grand Slam champion faced a tough test to start his campaign at a sweltering Melbourne Park.
But top seed Nadal recovered from a second-set wobble to defeat the 38th-ranked Briton 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 at Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal, who is now a father, faces American Mackenzie McDonald in round two.
“Very exciting, new beginning, just super-happy to be back at Rod Laver with a victory I needed,” he said after seeing off Draper.
“Last couple of months have not been easy for me … a very positive start.”
Nadal was on court when Australia’s talented but temperamental Kyrgios called a hastily arranged press conference and announced that he was out with a knee injury.
“I’m devastated, obviously,” said the Wimbledon finalist, who was considered an outside bet to win a maiden Grand Slam crown.
“I’ve had some great tournaments here, winning the doubles last year and playing the tennis of my life probably going into this event.
“I’m just exhausted from everything, and (it’s) obviously pretty brutal.”
The Australian Open had already lost several stars in the build-up.
Injured men’s world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and two-time Melbourne champion Naomi Osaka — who is expecting her first child — are among the other high-profile players missing.
Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who was detained and deported ahead of last year’s tournament after refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19, begins his title assault on Tuesday.
Other winners in the men’s draw on Monday included teenager Shang Juncheng.
The 17-year-old, the youngest player in the men’s draw, created a slice of history by becoming the first men’s Chinese player to win an Australian Open main-draw singles match.
The teenager battled past Germany’s Oscar Otte in nearly three hours and four sets to progress.
He faces American 16th seed Frances Tiafoe next.
Other winners included 18th seed Karen Khachanov, 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz and Italian 15th seed Jannik Sinner. But 21st seed Borna Coric fell to Czech player Jiri Lehecka in straight sets.
In the women’s draw, Pegula blitzed 161st-ranked Romanian Jaqueline Cristian on Margaret Court Arena 6-0, 6-1 in a 59-minute romp to signal her intent.
Fellow American Gauff was equally explosive in racing into the second round with a 6-1, 6-4 thumping of Czech Katerina Siniakova on the neighboring Rod Laver Arena.
Gauff headed into Melbourne on a high after winning her third WTA title at the Auckland Classic, while Pegula was boosted by upsetting world No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the United Cup.
The 18-year-old Gauff now faces a mouth-watering encounter against former U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu, who beat Tamara Korpatsch 6-3, 6-2, barely 10 days after the Briton exited the Auckland event in tears with an ankle injury.
It will be a first meeting ever between Gauff and the 20-year-old Raducanu, two rising stars of women’s tennis.
“I’m really looking forward to this match,” Raducanu said.
“I’m very up for it. Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she’s playing well.
“I think we’re both good, young players, we’re both coming through — part of the next generation of tennis really — it’s going to be a great match.”
Also safely through was another American, Danielle Collins, last year’s beaten finalist in Melbourne. She beat Anna Kalinskaya 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.
Greek sixth seed Maria Sakkari also won.
But two seeds fell at the first hurdle, 25th-seeded Czech Marie Bouzkova and American 28th-seed Amanda Anisimova.
Top seed Swiatek gets her campaign for a first Melbourne Park title under way later Monday against Germany’s Jule Niemeier.
Rafael Nadal defensive over Jack Draper claim after Aus Open win – ‘I didn’t say that’
Rafael Nadal gave his thoughts on Jack Draper’s performance after beating the Brit at the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal got defensive as he made a surprising claim that he wasn’t “impressed” by Jack Draper during their Australian Open match because he already knew just how good the British No 3 could be. The top seed downed the 21-year-old 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 for his first win of the season and was full of compliments for Draper as he urged reporters not to mis-quote him.
Nadal started his Australian Open title defence with a win as he came through a tough first round against Draper in three hours and 41 minutes as the young Brit struggled with cramping in the final set. It was the world No 2’s first victory of the year after suffering the worst start to a season in his career with two losses at the United Cup.
The Spaniard was more than happy to get through the match after explaining just how tough of an opponent the world No 38 was leading up to the match, branding him one of the hardest players a seed could face. And he continued his praise of Draper after the match, getting defensive as he explained why he wasn’t impressed by the Sutton native’s performance in what was his Australian Open debut.
“I mean, I am not impressed because I know he was well. He was a very good player,” the 22-time Grand Slam champion explained. And he quickly made sure to clarify his comments before they were taken out of context, smiling as he added: “Don’t put me I’m not impressed. I didn’t say that.”
During his on-court interview, Nadal predicted a bright future for Draper and he doubled down on his comments during his post-match press conference. “I mean, as I said before the tournament start, he’s a great player with a lot of potential, young,” he continued.
“A great future in front, I think. So was a tough, tough match. Full respect for him. Wish him well for the future.” The top seed in Melbourne also addressed Draper’s issues in the final set but thought they wouldn’t stop him from continuing his rise this year after going from No 265 to No 41 in the world in 2022.
He added: “I think it’s only cramping what happened at the end to him. Hopefully is nothing important. But I think he is in the right position to have a very productive season. I am happy that I was able to win against a great player this afternoon.”
Looking at the match as a whole, Nadal admitted it was even sweeter to get a victory over such a tough opponent for his first match win of the season. “I need a victory, so that’s the main thing. Doesn’t matter the way. The most important thing today is a victory against a tough opponent,” he said after dropping a set to the 21-year-old.
“To win against Jack, as I said before the tournament start, have been one of the toughest first rounds possible being seeded. We know not going to be perfect, as I said the other day. Was not perfect.
“But to win against Jack, I need to do things well, no? I think I did things well. So satisfied with the victory because that’s give me the chance to play after tomorrow again.”
EXCLUSIVE: RAFAEL NADAL DESCRIBES ‘FUNNY SITUATION’ WITH BALL KID TAKING AWAY HIS RACQUET AT AUSTRALIAN OPEN
It was a comical moment, and now Rafael Nadal has been able to laugh about it. The Spaniard found himself without the racquet he wanted to play with midway through the opening set in his victory over Britain’s Jack Draper in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday after a ball kid accidentally took the wrong one to the stringer. He has spoken to Eurosport about the incident.
Rafael Nadal has explained to Eurosport’s Barbara Schett exactly what happened when a ball kid took his racquet away to the stringer when he needed it at the Australian Open on Monday.
The top seed and defending champion won through to the second round after a 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 victory over British rising star Jack Draper at Melbourne Park, but there was a comical moment early on that Schett had to ask him about.
Nadal was left without the racquet he wanted to use in the opening set after a ball kid took the wrong one to the stringer to be repaired. It all amounted to some entertaining exchanges on Rod Laver Arena as he attempted to get it back.
After it occurred to him that he had been left without the right racquet at the changeover with the score 4-3 in his favour in the opening set, Nadal was left amused but also pretty flustered.
He gave his perspective on the events in his post-match interview with Eurosport.
“Not distracting, just a funny situation!” he told Schett with a smile.
“Normally, I have the numbers of the racquet under control, so I said ‘I need the stringer’ – but I needed the stringer to look at the other racquets.
“So he [the ball kid] picked up my racquet I was ready to play [with]. But okay, he took it and no problem at all!”
Ultimately, it did not affect the Spaniard too much, and he was happy with how he performed given he had fitness doubts over the off-season in advance of the first Grand Slam of the season.
“Well, if you put into perspective how we arrived here with a lot of injuries in the last six months, then coming back it hasn’t been easy with losses on the road, I don’t think it was a bad match at all,” he said.
“When you put everything into perspective, I had a very tricky opponent in the first round. I knew before the match that the doubts were going to be there, that there will be ups and downs in the match.
“So the other thing that I said to myself was ‘okay, I know that’s going to happen because I need victories to avoid that’.
“I need to accept that, to stay with the right attitude, and it happened in the second [set, which Draper won] and it happened in the fourth at the beginning, but that’s part of the business now.”
Nadal then spoke about when he sensed his opportunity as Draper’s conditioning failed him with cramps and muscle stiffness.
“In the fourth, I saw I had an advantage, but you know, when you’re in a winning mood you are less worried because, at the end, things are going your way normally when you’re in the situation you have been and I am now,” he said.
“You need to fight more for things and it’s not a problem for me, I am humble enough to accept that and I know that the most important thing from today was the victory.
“Winning against Jack [Draper], I needed to do things well, of course. It wasn’t perfect, but I am able to play one more time with a victory on my shoulders now so that’s going to help, without a doubt.”
Stream the 2023 Australian Open live on discovery+, the Eurosport app and at eurosport.co.uk
Australian Open: Rafael Nadal battles hard to seal first round win vs injured Jack Draper
Rafael Nadal defeated Jack Draper in his Australian Open first round match for his first win of 2023.
Rafael Nadal has started the defense of his Australian Open title with a bit of a struggle along the way to a four-set victory over a cramping Jack Draper. Nadal was not in peak form but did manage to beat Draper 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a match that took more than 3 1/2 hours in Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
It was the first match win for Nadal in 2023. He had lost six of his preceding seven contests dating to the end of last season. 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.