Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open first-round match, Maria Sharapova advances

Rafael Nadal has ignored significant injury concerns to earn safe passage through to the second round of the Australian Open, while Angelique Kerber impressively kick-started her Melbourne Park campaign.

Key points:

  • Rafael Nadal enters the Australian Open under an injury cloud
  • Nadal withdrew from the Brisbane International two weeks ago because of a thigh complaint
  • He is chasing his second Australian Open title

Nadal has not played an ATP Tour match since being forced to withdraw from his US Open semi-final because of a knee injury last September and although he showed signs of rust, he encountered little trouble in beating Australian wildcard Duckworth in two hours and 15 minutes.

The 2009 Australian Open champion defeated Duckworth in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 in hot conditions on Rod Laver Arena.

Kerber, who won the women’s title in Melbourne in 2016, followed Nadal on centre court to breeze past Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 12 minutes.

Nadal withdrew from the Brisbane International a fortnight ago due to a thigh complaint and he entered the Open under an injury cloud, however he should be satisfied with the hit-out against Duckworth, as it gave him some much-needed match fitness.

“It was a sad position, not to play there in Brisbane,” Nadal said.

“I was there and ready to play but I had a small issue on the leg. So, the doctors didn’t allow me to go on court even if I wanted.”

The men’s world number two began impressively to break Duckworth in the opening game of the match and eventually claim the first set in 39 minutes, but the Australian offered resistance in the second set when he secured a break of serve to establish a 2-0 lead.

Nadal, a 17-time major winner, broke back immediately with games soon going back on serve, before he gained two more breaks to move ahead two sets to love.

The 237th-ranked Duckworth, who has been as high as 82 on the ATP Tour rankings, again displayed his fighting qualities when he broke Nadal after the Spaniard served for the match at 5-3.

He held serve to level at 5-5 but Nadal regrouped to win the next two games and progress to the second round.

Nadal has previously played himself into form at the majors and the fact he was restricted to just nine tournaments last year and required ankle surgery in November means match fitness in the early rounds in Melbourne is crucial.

Meanwhile, women’s world number two Kerber began her pursuit of a fourth major with minimal fuss in getting past Hercog.

She broke the Slovenian twice in the opening set and repeated the dose in the second to claim a convincing win.

Sharapova wins with double bagel

Sharapova, herself a former Australian Open champion (2008), barely needed to shift into second gear via a commanding scoreline of 6-0, 6-0 against British qualifier Harriet Dart.

The Russian, seeded 30, took just over an hour to dispense of Dart, who left Rod Laver Arena in tears after being on the end of a ‘double bagel’ — when a player fails to win a game during the match.

Sharapova was untroubled by leg and shoulder ailments, which forced her to curtail her 2018 season following the US Open.

She will meet Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the second round.

Among other results in the women’s draw, fifth seed Slaone Stephens defeated fellow American Taylor Townsend 6-4, 6-2.

Another American, Reilly Opelka, provided one of the early upsets in the men’s draw when he beat his countryman and ninth seed, John Isner, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5).

Fifth seed Kevin Anderson took four sets to get past Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 and the 26th-seeded Fernando Verdasco, a semi-finalist 10 years ago, downed Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-3.

Young greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 14th seed who was the 2018 ATP most improved player of the year, and Grigor Dimitrov also won through to the second round.