Australian Open: Rafael Nadal overcomes Jack Draper to make winning start to Melbourne defence | Tennis News

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Jack Draper’s hopes of causing an early shock at the Australian Open faded after the young Briton hobbled with cramp during a 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 defeat to defending champion Rafael Nadal.

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.

Fellow left-hander Draper played superb tennis to level the match at a set all but the 21-year-old soon developed leg troubles and was left groaning in pain as Nadal closed out the match on Rod Laver Arena.

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after defeating Jack Draper of Britain in their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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Nadal will next face Mackenzie McDonald for a place in the third round

Speaking on court afterwards, Nadal said: “If we put in perspective all the situations I went through the last six months, it has been a very positive start. I played against one of the toughest opponents possible in the first round. He’s young, he has the power and I think he has a great future in front (of him).”

Nadal was broken first game of the final set when Draper punished a dubious attempted drop-shot with a winner but the Spaniard won the next six games in succession to claim the match as the ailing Briton bowed out swinging.

Draper, who modelled his game around his hero Nadal, 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.

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Nadal was left frustrated by the ball-kids at the Australian Open after complaining they were not handing him his towel, and then taking the wrong racket to be re-strung!

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 defending 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.

Nadal vs Draper: Match Stats

Nadal Match Stats Draper
6 Aces 12
3 Double Faults 3
73% 1st serve win percentage 63%
51% 2nd serve win percentage 56%
6/12 Break points won 4/11
41 Total winners 35
46 Unforced errors 46
124 Total points won 110

Nadal, bidding for a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title, will next face Mackenzie McDonald for a place in the third round after the American overcame his compatriot Brandon Nakashima in five sets.

American Frances Tiafoe was tested in his first-round encounter with Daniel Altmaier but eventually prevailed 6-3 6-3 6-7 (7-5) 7-6 (7-6) in a gruelling match.

Shang Juncheng, 17, became the first male player from China to win a main-draw singles match at the tournament in the Open Era when he stunned German Otte 6-2 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 7-5 on his Grand Slam debut.

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