Rafael Nadal got off to a great start at the 2016 U.S. Open with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Denis Istomin.
The first-round match was the first Grand Slam appearance for Nadal since he withdrew from the third round of the French Open in May with a wrist injury. While Istomin had a few strong moments over the course of the match, the Spanish star remained in control for an impressive opening win in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Nadal was solid with his serve but mostly excelled at coming through in big moments, winning seven of his 12 break opportunities while saving four of his five chances the other way. Istomin also didn't help his own cause with seven double-faults and a total of 39 unforced errors in the three sets.
After the win, Nadal made sure to show fans how excited he is to be back in Flushing Meadows, per ESPN Tennis:
"The most important thing is I am here in NY." 2-time champ Nadal secures spot in R2 w/6-1 6-4 6-2 win over Istomin https://t.co/f7usy28jox2016-8-29 20:22:23
The No. 4 seed was on cruise control in the first set, looking like the superstar of old while earning a 6-1 win. Matt Dowell of WACH Fox questioned Istomin's energy at the time:
Matt Dowell @TheMattDowell
Players like Istomin, who's playing Nadal, make me wonder: "why are you even out there?" No belief, no effort to compete. #USOpen2016-8-29 18:54:49
Nadal won 58 percent of total points in a set that lasted just 33 minutes.
As the second set started, it appeared to be much of the same, as Nadal remained excellent with both his serve and receiving.
Istomin did bounce back by winning three straight games, but the Uzbekistan native hurt himself with four double-faults and 19 unforced errors compared to just seven winners in the set. Nadal eventually closed out the set with a 6-4 victory.
US Open Tennis @usopen
.@RafaelNadal is one step closer to advancing to the next round. He's up 2 sets over Denis Istomin. #usopen @MBUSA https://t.co/6lyqGMx1pe2016-8-29 19:40:56
The third set was more of the same, with the favorite looking smooth on the court, while his opponent couldn't avoid mistakes. Istomin missed two break chances and ended up falling 6-2.
Nadal remains one of the biggest names in the sport, but he has struggled with injuries in recent years and hasn't been great in Grand Slam tournaments. He won at Roland Garros in 2014 but hasn't reached the semifinals in any major over the last two years.
His wrist injury has limited him so far in 2016, forcing him to leave the French Open and not even compete in Wimbledon.
"I need to regain my confidence and play some weeks with no pain, which has not happened yet," Nadal told El Espanol heading into the U.S. Open, via Kamakshi Tandon of Tennis.com. "But if someone sees me playing and does not know [about the injury and layoff], I think it is not very noticeable, honestly."
The first-round win will hopefully provide some confidence, although things only get tougher with a second-round matchup against Andreas Seppi, who defeated Stephane Robert in four sets.
Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Roberto Bautista Agut also represent tough matchups in his draw, which could keep things interesting for Nadal going forward.
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