'Rafael Nadal made a perfect start,' Mats Wilander says

Rafael Nadal took down Jack Draper in four sets at Rod Laver Arena

by Jovica Ilic
'Rafael Nadal made a perfect start,' Mats Wilander says

Rafael Nadal came to Melbourne with no form or matches in his legs. The Spaniard had played only 11 encounters after the last year's Wimbledon before facing the young Briton Jack Draper at Rod Laver Arena. Nadal had to dig deep against the young gun before earning his first season's victory, beating the Briton 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in three hours and 41 minutes.

Nadal worked hard in the opening three sets against the fellow left-hander before leaving him behind in the fourth. Rafa hit 41 winners and 46 unforced errors and saved seven out of 11 break chances. The Spaniard broke the Briton six times from 12 opportunities to emerge at the top and advance into the second round.

Draper had the advantage in the rallies up to four strokes, which kept them in touch in the opening three sets. Nadal took charge in the more extended exchanges to bring the victory home and match Ivan Lendl's 1068 ATP wins.

Jack struggled with cramps in sets three and four, refusing to surrender and playing until the end during his Australian Open debut. Mats Wilander was pleased with Nadal's performance, saying it was a perfect scenario for a 21-time Major winner who needs rhythm and matches.

The returners barely won a point in the opening seven games, with Rafa holding for 4-3 after only 25 minutes. Draper saved a break point with a service winner in game eight and stayed on the positive side.

Rafael Nadal scored his first victory of the season at the Australian Open.

Nadal kept the pressure on his rival and made one last push on the return in the 12th game.

Rafa forced the rival's mistake to create a set point and seized it with a forehand crosscourt winner for 7-5 in 54 minutes. Jack took charge in the second set, serving well and finding the rhythm behind the return. Rafa squandered game points at the start of the set and got broken after Jack's volley winner.

The youngster held at love in game two and grabbed another break in the next one following a backhand down the line bullet. Nadal struggled and faced more break points at 0-4. He saved them to avoid a bagel and get some rhythm.

A left-handed Briton held at 15 in game eight to wrap up an impressive set and level the overall score after an hour and 47 minutes. Nadal made a fresh start in the third set and broke Draper at 2-1 following the youngster's double fault.

Jack struggled physically but broke back in game seven thanks to Rafa's loose forehand. The Spaniard clinched a crucial break at 5-4 to wrap up the set and open two sets to one advantage. They traded breaks at the start of the fourth set, and Nadal delivered three straight return games to forge a 5-1 lead.

The Spaniard saved break points in game seven and sealed the deal after the rival's forehand error. "For me, Rafa made a perfect start. Rafa has only a few victories in the previous seven months, facing a formidable opponent in the first round.

Also, they had to stop and play again due to the rain, which broke their rhythm and concentration. It's not easy at 36, but somehow, it helped Rafa. He is there to deal with every situation, using his experience and appreciating being there. Rafa is such a great champion and role model," Mats Wilander said.

Rafael Nadal Mats Wilander Jack Draper