AAP Tennis

Nadal downs Duckworth at Australian Open

By AAP Newswire

Rafael Nadal has dispelled lingering fitness concerns in dispatching free-swinging local hope James Duckworth in straight sets in the first round of the Australian Open.

Playing his first tour match since the 2018 US Open, the Spanish powerhouse won 6-4 6-3 7-5 against a man long overdue a change of fortune on the sport's biggest stages.

Nadal pulled out of his US Open semi against Juan Martin del Potro due to knee pain before undergoing ankle surgery in November.

"It is normal that the beginnings are tough, but every day helps and every day makes me feel better, makes me feel more confident," said Nadal.

"So that's an important victory because is the first victory in a while and at the same time, because it gives me the chance to be on court again.

"That's what I needed today."

The 17-time major champion had 38 winners and only 11 unforced errors against the luckless Duckworth, who has undergone countless bouts of foot surgery in recent years.

The 26-year-old Australian won last month's Open wildcard playoff to earn his way into the main draw.

But he has now crashed out at the first hurdle at the past four majors, each time to much higher-ranked opponents in Marin Cilic, Alexander Zverev, Andy Murray and now Nadal.

Duckworth realised his only chance of causing a major upset on Monday was to go for broke - an approach that at times rattled the great Spaniard.

"Today he went on court with the determination to play tennis not in the way you know that I understand tennis," said Nadal.

"But that is not a negative point; not at all. Believe me.

"He went on court probably doing a thing that works well for him, and that gives him some chances.

"And he played smart and he played well.

"When you play against a player that wants to hit all the shots, of course you can have breaks against you, because you are sometimes in his hands."

The second-seeded Nadal's second-round opponent will be either another Australian, Matt Ebden, or Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff.