Rafael Nadal Breezes by James Duckworth for Opening-Round Win at Australian Open

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2019

Spain's Rafael Nadal makes a backhand return in his first round match against Australia's James Duckworth at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Aaron Favila/Associated Press

Rafael Nadal took the initial step toward becoming the first male tennis player to win each Grand Slam at least two times with a straight-sets 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 victory over James Duckworth in the first round of the Australian Open at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

Nadal is the No. 2 seed and, as expected, had little trouble with the wild-card entry in their first career matchup.

While only one of his 17 career major titles have come at the Australian Open, the Spaniard has reached the quarterfinals in 10 of his 13 attempts Down Under. His health was more of a question mark than whether he would win in the first round against an overmatched opponent, as Ravi Ubha of CNN noted he withdrew or retired in every hard-court event but one last season. 

"Of course is good news that I am here again," Nadal told reporters entering the tournament. "Is again another season, coming back from a tough period of time but with highest motivation possible to start another season."

He started things the right way against Duckworth, notching a break in the very first game to seize control of the match.

That set the stage for him to move ahead early with his dominant serve, and he didn't allow Duckworth to break him a single time in the first set. While the wild card finished with 12 aces compared to the No. 2 seed's six, it was Nadal who controlled the pace with his serve throughout and won 74 percent of his first-service points compared to 65 percent for the Australian challenger.

His serve let him down for a moment in the second set, which allowed Duckworth to briefly climb back into the match with a quick break.

Nadal made sure the momentum was short-lived, though, and won six of the final seven games of the set after falling behind 2-0.

He won a solid 50 percent of his break points, but it was the sheer volume of chances he created that proved too much for Duckworth to overcome. The 17-time Grand Slam winner had 12 break points in the three-set match, suggesting he will be capable of winning matches with more than just his serve as the tournament enters the more challenging stages.

The third set seemed to be a formality at that point, but Duckworth battled back from 5-2 down to a 5-5 tie before Nadal held serve and iced the win with a final break.


What's Next?

With his first-round opponent dispatched in straight sets, Nadal will focus on preparing for the longer pursuit of his second Australian Open title. His first came in 2009 with a dramatic victory over Roger Federer in the final, and the two legends could meet up in the semifinals should they advance that far this year.

Nadal will first have to face the winner of the matchup between Jan-Lennard Struff and Matthew Ebden in the second round. 

He has never played Struff in his career and won his only matchup against Ebden, but that was back in 2011 on a grass court in London.


*All stats are courtesy of the Australian Open's official website.


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