Nadal dispatches wild card in Australian opener

Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal has missed a lot of tennis since last September. He hasn’t missed a beat.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal had a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Australian wild-card entry James Duckworth on Monday in the first round of the Australian Open, his first match back at Rod Laver Arena since he had to retire in his quarterfinal match in the tournament last year.

The 17-time major winner hasn’t played since retiring from his semifinal at the U.S. Open because of a knee injury, and then had surgery on his right ankle in November. He withdrew from a warm-up tournament in Brisbane in the first week of the season because of a muscle strain in his thigh.

“Not easy to come back after a lot of months of [no] competition, especially against a player playing super aggressive every shot,” Nadal said. “It’s very difficult to start after an injury — I know it very well. It’s very special to be back.”

Wearing a sleeveless top, he showed no signs of any issues against Duckworth. His only hiccup came when he served for the match in the ninth game of the third set and was broken at love. He returned the favor quickly, though, to seal his spot in the second round.

Nadal has lost only twice in the first round at Grand Slams — to Steve Darcis at 2013 Wimbledon, and to Fernando Verdasco here in 2016 — and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win all four majors at least twice.

Fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson won his first match at Melbourne Park since 2015 when he beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing on the men’s side were No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 26 Fernando Verdasco.

Defending champion Roger Federer was scheduled to play a night match later Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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