Rafael Nadal made a convincing return to grand slam tennis as he advanced to the second round of the Australian Open.
The sixth seed, the only man to bid for a 21st grand slam title two weeks after Novak Djokovic’s deportation, broke off his 2021 season in early August due to a foot problem.
His only slam title in Melbourne came 13 years ago, but he kicked off the new year by winning an ATP Tour event on the same courts, beating American Marcos Giron 6-1 6-4 6-2.
Nadal said: “Of course, as you get a little older, all the comebacks are more difficult.
“This has been especially difficult because it’s not just a comeback from injury, it’s a comeback trying to get back on tour after not playing many events with the virus for nearly two years.
“But here I am. I’m super happy with all the work we’ve done trying to be back. We’re playing tennis here, and that’s all. We will continue to do our best.”
In the second round, the Spaniard will face German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, who leveled Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis again.
Kokkinakis, who has been ravaged by injuries in recent years, won an emotional first ATP Tour title in his home city of Adelaide on Saturday, but was unable to keep it up and fell back to a 6-2 6-3 6-2 loss.
Third seed Alexander Zverev came out of a break down in the third set to beat compatriot Daniel Altmaier 7-6 (3) 6-1 7-6 (1), while last year’s surprise semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, this time 18 posted, only needed five hours to see Jaume Munar.
Matteo Berrettini is the highest remaining in the top quarter in the absence of Djokovic and he overcame his stomach problems by beating Brandon Nakashima 4-6 6-2 7-6 (5) 6-3.
Salvatore Caruso was unable to take advantage of Djokovic’s defection as a lucky loser, falling 6-4 6-2 6-1 behind world number one compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.
Eighteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz is one of the men looking to get deep into the tournament from that part of the draw and, seeded for the first time in a slam, got off to 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 wins for 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz and 14th seed Denis Shapovalov.
The Canadian is playing his first grand slam tournament after signing British Andy Murray’s longtime coach Jamie Delgado.
“I wanted to take a man like Jamie just because he has so much experience with Andy all these years,” Shapovalov said.
“He has the drive and experience to take a player to a top level.
“It’s been absolutely amazing with him. Obviously it’s still very early, but I think the few things we’ve done in the game have been great. I really feel like we understand each other very well.”