The world no. 2 and 2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal had a rough start of 2019 campaign so far, withdrawing from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship at the end of December and deciding to skip the ATP 250 event in Brisbane as well in the opening week.
Nonetheless, the Spaniard is ready and confident to do the damage at the Australian Open, seeking the first Aussie Open title in 10 years and opening the title path with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 triumph over James Duckworth in two hours and 15 minutes, ousting the Aussie in their first meeting on the Tour.
This win was the 248th at Grand Slams for Rafa and the 56th here in Melbourne, earning it after a solid display on both the serve and return in his first official match since September and that US Open semi-final when he had to retire against Juan Martin del Potro.
Duckworth has earned a wild card to enter the main draw after being ranked outside the top-200 and he fought well against the powerful rival, hitting 12 aces but also 11 double faults and breaking Rafa twice from three chances he earned.
On another hand, the Spaniard controlled the pace on the return and scored six breaks from 12 opportunities to rule the scoreboard despite a little setback in the closing stages of the third set when he served for the win.
They hit a similar number of winners but Nadal tamed his groundstrokes in a much more efficient way, staying on 11 unforced errors while James counted to 40, unable to impose his shots and find the open court on the other side of the net.
It was an excellent start for Rafa who lost just four points on serve in the opening set, breaking Duckworth in the very first game of the match following a costly double fault from the Aussie. James saved another break point in game five with an ace to stay within one break deficit but Rafa completed the set with three service winners in game ten after 38 minutes.
James bounced back with a break at the start of the second set but Nadal pulled it back already a few minutes later to get back on the positive side of the scoreboard and gain the momentum. Duckworth struggled to keep the pace with his rival in the rest of the set, hitting another double fault to get broken at 3-3 and handing the set to Rafa after yet another poor serve in game nine.
The Spaniard earned the lead with a break of serve at 3-2 in set number three but he suffered an unexpected break at love while serving for the win at 5-3, keeping James in contention a little bit more. Nonetheless, he fixed the damage with a backhand cross court winner that delivered the break for him in game 12 and the place in the second round where he will face Matthew Ebden or Jan-Lennard Struff. First round result:
Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs [WC]James Duckworth (AUS) 6-4 6-3 7-5