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RAFAEL NADAL made a convincing return to grand slam tennis as he eased into the second round of the Australian Open yesterday.
The sixth seed, the only man bidding for a 21st grand slam title this fortnight following Novak Djokovic’s deportation, cut short his 2021 season in early August because of a foot problem.
His only slam title in Melbourne came 13 years ago but he began the new year by winning an ATP Tour event on the same courts and brushed aside American Marcos Giron 6-1 6-4 6-2.
Nadal said: “Of course, when you are getting a little bit older, all the comebacks are tougher.
“This has been especially difficult because it’s not only a comeback from an injury, it’s a comeback trying to be back on the tour after almost two years playing not many events with the virus.
“But here I am. I am super happy about all the work that we have done to try to be back. We are here enjoying the tennis, and that’s it. We’re going to keep trying hard.”
In the second round, the Spaniard will take on German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, who brought Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis back down to earth.
Kokkinakis, who has been blighted by injuries in recent years, won an emotional first ATP Tour title in his home city of Adelaide on Saturday but was unable to back it up and fell to a 6-2 6-3 6-2 defeat.
Third seed Alexander Zverev came from a break down in the third set to defeat fellow German Daniel Altmaier 7-6 (3) 6-1 7-6 (1) while last year’s surprise semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, seeded 18 this time, needed just short of five hours to see off Jaume Munar.
Matteo Berrettini is the highest seed left in the top quarter in Djokovic’s absence and he overcame stomach troubles to beat Brandon Nakashima 4-6 6-2 7-6 (5) 6-3.
Salvatore Caruso was unable to take advantage of stepping in for Djokovic as a lucky loser, going down 6-4 6-2 6-1 to the world number one’s countryman Miomir Kecmanovic.
Eighteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz is one of the men looking to make it deep into the tournament from that section of the draw and, seeded at a slam for the first time, he made an impressive start with a 6-2 6-2 6-3 victory over Alejandro Tabilo.
Gael Monfils, in the same section, was another comfortable winner, beating Federico Coria 6-1 6-1 6-3, while there were also victories for 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz and 14th seed Denis Shapovalov.
The Canadian is playing his first grand slam tournament after recruiting Britain’s Jamie Delgado, long-time coach of Andy Murray.
“I wanted to take a guy like Jamie just because he’s got so much experience being with Andy all these years,” said Shapovalov.
“He’s got the drive and experience to bring a player to a top level.
“It’s definitely been really great with him. Obviously it’s very early on but I think the few things that we’ve implemented into the game have been great. I do feel like we understand each other really well.”
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