Aus Open: Nadal wins hard-fought battle against Draper to begin his title defence

by IANS |

Melbourne, Jan 16 (IANS) The 22-time Grand Slam champion, Spain's Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open first-round match against Britain's Jack Draper to kickstart his title defence here at Rod Laver Arena on Monday.

The Spaniard registered a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over the 21-year-old Draper to earn his first win of the 2023 season.

Playing for a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam singles titles, Nadal is seeking his third Australian Open Trophy. He will meet American Mackenzie McDonald, who won 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 1-6, 6-7(10), 6-4 against countryman Brandon Nakashima, in the second round on Wednesday.

"Winning the Australian Open last year was without one of the most emotional moments of my tennis career but unfortunately that passed. I have to keep working but I'm super happy to be back at Rod Laver Arena with the victory I needed. The last couple of months have not been easy for me but I hope this victory will help me," the defending champion Nadal said after the match.

After narrowly missing out on the opening set, Draper raced to a 4-0 lead in the second behind his driven forehand, playing with great confidence in his Australian Open debut. The match was in the balance as Draper clawed back from 1-4 to level the third set, but Nadal did just enough to keep his opponent at bay and squash any hope of an upset, with the fourth set never in doubt.

As the Spaniard reclaimed the initiative in the third set, Draper began to struggle with cramps and required treatment during several changeovers.

Both players produced some of their best tennis early in the fourth set, with Draper claiming his fourth break for an early lead. But Nadal rattled off the final six games as Draper's physical issues hampered him more.

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