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Nadal: AO Challenge Business as Usual

By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, January 16, 2023

In his return to Rod Laver Arena, Rafael Nadal stopped his slide—and halted a heist in the process.

In an all-lefty clash, Nadal defeated 40th-ranked Briton Jack Draper 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 for his 17th Australian Open first-round win in 18 appearances.

More: Kyrgios Out of Australian Open

The defending champion overcame both the explosive Draper and an eager ball boy, who swiped Nadal's Babolat racquet off his court-side seat to run it inside to the stringer.

Tennis Express

Nadal noticed the missing stick immediately and notified the chair umpire. Because Nadal uses the same vibration dampener in each racquet, play was momentarily stopped as he retrieved another dampener.

“The ball boy took my racquet!” Nadal told Draper explaining the delay.

The top seed regained his racquet and knows retaining his title will be a tough task.

Nadal, who snapped a slide that saw him lose six of seven matches before Melbourne, said ups and downs are business as usual on the pro circuit.

"I am not playing bad, you know?" Nadal told the media in Melbourne. "Just need to hold the positive level for longer time. I am in a moment that I am more up and down. But, as I said, it's part of the business.

"For me the first set, if we put everything together, have been very positive set. Not many mistakes. Winners. Playing more or less choosing the right shots all the time, playing the game the right way, no? For me, that was a very positive set.

T"he negative thing is when I played a very solid set, I finally have the break and win, then I make a big mistake. That's the moments that I need to change and to win these kind of games because makes a big impact on the match."

While there has been some speculation Nadal's second-serve vulnerability in his United Cup losses was due to scar tissue over the abdominal tear he suffered last season.

The 22-time Grand Slam king conceded it's true he altered his toss to accomodate for the abdominal injury, but says he feels fine now.

The 36-year-old Nadal served 66 percent with 6 aces and 3 double faults in his win over Draper. Nadal's average second serve speed was 94 miles per hour, which was faster than Draper's second speed serve. 

"I am okay. Of course, when you break the abdominal twice, takes a while to recover the confidence on the movement, no?" Nadal said. "I mean, was difficult for me for a few months to put the ball high and go for the ball.

"When you break the abdominal, you start to protect yourself, putting the ball more to the left, trying to not do the movement, the full movement, with the abdominal, no?

"Is something I needed to work hard to come back to the normal serve. I think I did it."

Continuing his quest to defend a hard-court Grand Slam for the first time, Nadal will face American Mackenzie McDonald in round two. In an all-American opener, McDonald saw a two-set lead slip, but dug in to out-duel Brandon Nakashima 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 1-6, 6-7(12), 6-4 in a match that spanned four hours, two minutes.

Photo credit: Andy Cheung/Getty