Melbourne, February 9
Facing a break point late in the third set, Rafa Nadal sprinted to his left and hit a running, around-the-post forehand that landed just inside the line. The lingering back soreness that bothered the 20-time Major champion ahead of the Australian Open wasn’t going to stop him from finishing his first-round match as quickly as he could.
Laslo Djere, ranked 56th, shrugged, his head dropped and he no doubt wondered what more he needed to do to win a point. He’d had three break points when Nadal was serving for the second set, and didn’t get close to cashing in one. When Djere, going for everything, double-faulted to open what became the last game of the match, a woman in the crowd at Rod Laver Arena yelled out: “It’s all right, Laslo.” Easy for her to say.
Nadal finished off a 6-3 6-4 6-1 win in just under two hours in his first competitive match in months — he didn’t play for Spain at the ATP Cup last week because of the back stiffness. “My back is not perfect, as I said a couple of days ago,” Nadal said.
“Every day that I’m able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. That’s the thing now — there is always a chance to improve, and that’s why I’m here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance.”
A slight change to his service motion was among the precautions he took “survive” for the first round.
He’ll next play American qualifier Michael Mmoh, who outlasted Viktor Troicki 7-6 (3) 6-7 (3) 3-6 7-6 (3) 7-5.
While Sofia Kenin struggled with nerves in her first match as a defending champion at a Grand Slam tournament before beating 133rd-ranked wild-card entry Maddison Inglis 7-5 6-4, top-ranked Ash Barty dominated in her first Grand Slam match in more than a year, dropping only 10 points in a 6-0 6-0 rout of Danka Kovinic.
Barty lost to Kenin in the semifinals last year and then skipped the US Open and her title defense at the French Open because she stayed in Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic. After her 44-minute opener on Rod Laver Arena, Barty said she’d missed tennis “every single day” during her time away from the sport.
Garbine Muguruza, the Australian Open runner-up last year, defeated Margarita Gasparyan 6-4 6-0. — AP