MELBOURNE/STARNBERG, February 9, 2021
The bottom half of the Australian Open men’s draw was in action on Tuesday led by World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who opened his campaign for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title when he took on Serbia’s Laslo Djere in the third match on Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal has been troubled by a back injury in recent days and was unable to compete for Spain in last week’s ATP Cup but the 2009 champion looked fine to secure a 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 victory over the World No. 56.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 9, 2021
“It has been a tough 15 days for me because I had some issues with the back so I needed to survive today and that’s what I did,” Nadal said in his on-court interview.
“I just tried to be focused all the time, tried to get through. I think I did a good job today. Straight sets, that’s what I needed.
“Let’s go day by day. Today I was able to find a way to be through. That gives me the chance to have one more day tomorrow so it’s a work of every day to try to get ready. Of course it was not ideal preparation for me but I’m still alive. That’s the main thing.”
The 34-year-old from Mallorca converted six of his 11 break-point chances to prevail after one hour and 52 minutes. Up next for Nadal will be US-American Michael Mmoh, who fought past fellow qualifier Viktor Troicki of Serbia 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 3-6, 7-6(3), 7-5 in four hours and five minutes.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 9, 2021
Alcaraz advances in Grand Slam debut
While Nadal represents Spain’s tennis in the present, the country’s future has already arrived at highest level, too. Seventeen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, the 2020 ATP Newcomer of the Year, dispatched fellow qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp from the Netherlands 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in his Grand Slam debut on Court 17.
“I’m very happy to win today in my first Grand Slam,” Alcaraz said. “I tried to enjoy, to play my game. I think I did it. I enjoyed the match. I got the experience. I’m excited to play my second round.”
The teenager, who has played a best-of-five match for the first time, capitalized on five of his 12 break-point chances to prevail after one hour and 54 minutes.
“I played a very good first set. I think he missed a lot of balls. I tried to be focused all the time,” Alcaraz said. “The second set was very, very tough. He played a really good game in the second set. I tried to be relaxed in the tough moments.”
Alcaraz moved 350 spots to close the 2020 season at World No. 141 after reaching a career-high ranking of No. 136, winning a trio of ATP Challenger Tour titles in Trieste, Barcelona and Alicante to mark his rapid rise. In preparation to the Australian Open, Nadal shared the practice court with his young compatriot.
Muchas gracias @RafaelNadal por entrenar conmigo hoy en el @australianopen. Muy feliz de haber disfrutado de esta experiencia unica.
Thank you very much @RafaelNadal for practice with me today at @australianopen. Very happy to have enjoyed this unique experience. pic.twitter.com/NVtsoHk1Jq
— Carlos Alcaraz (@alcarazcarlos03) February 6, 2021
“He trains with a lot of intensity all the time,” Alcaraz told journalists in his post-match press conference about his experience. “He hits the ball very hard. Each ball, he tries to hit harder. I think he’s focused from the first ball to the last ball. I think it is a good thing to keep it, yeah.”
Alcaraz, protege of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, will next play Swede Mikael Ymer, who upset 26th seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 after three hours and 44 minutes.
Russian stars prevail
No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev and No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev carried Russia to the ATP Cup title last week and both made comfortable starts to their Australian Open campaigns.
Reigning ATP Finals champion Medvedev extended his winning streak to 15 matches with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Vasek Pospisil from Canada while seventh seed Rublev defeated Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
“To be honest, it was good not to lose any matches (at the ATP Cup) but on the other hand, we played on Sunday and had a lot of matches against tough opponents,” said Medvedev. “So I’m really happy that I finished fast today.”
Baustista Agut, Goffin fall
In other action, No. 21 seed Alex de Minaur from Australia cruised to the second round with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 win over US-American Tennys Sandgren.
There were also a couple of notable upsets, with Moldova’s Radu Albot knocking out No. 12 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-7(1), 6-0, 6-4, 7-6(5) while the poor run of No. 13 David Goffin from Belgium continued with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 6-3 loss to Australia’s Alexei Popyrin.