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Nadal makes scorching start, Coco Gauff dumped out at Australian Open

The Spaniard launched his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title in blistering fashion.

Rafael Nadal celebrates winning in Melbourne.
Rafael Nadal celebrates winning in Melbourne.
Image: AAP/PA Images

RAFAEL NADAL LAUNCHED his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title Monday in blistering fashion — a far cry from his “ugly” predicament one month ago and recent injury problems.

Nadal, the only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Novak Djokovic’s banishment on the eve of the tournament, was all guns blazing in a spectacular first-round win on Rod Laver Arena.

The Spanish sixth seed, who beat Roger Federer for the 2009 Australian title and is vying with Djokovic and Federer to reach a record 21st Grand Slam crown, bludgeoned American Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

In an impressive 1hr 49min performance, Nadal began with an ace and peppered the world number 66 Giron with 34 winners — 14 of them with his famed forehand — and won 84 percent of his first serves.

It follows 35-year-old Nadal’s 89th Tour title when the veteran great swept through the field last week to win a warm-up event at Melbourne Park, having had Covid only last month and suffered a foot injury in 2021.

“Twelve events in two years are not many,” Nadal said, reflecting on an injury-marred couple of years.

“If we add that I was not able to practise very often, too, it’s a really tough one.

“But here I am. I am super happy about all the work that we have done to try to be back. We are here enjoying the tennis, and that’s it. We’re going to keep trying hard.

“I need time on the Tour to try and recover the level that I need to fight for the things that I want and be healthy.

“If that happens, I hope to keep having chances to keep going and fight for the things.”

Warhorse Nadal ended his season in August because of his foot, then contracted Covid-19 in December, saying it left him “very sick”.

“I tell you one thing, the knees have been better than ever after that period of time. But the foot was worse than ever for the last year and a half,” he said.

“I always had the problem with the foot during all my tennis career that sometimes especially on the cold conditions I suffered a lot.

“But I was able to play all my career with not many limitations in terms of competing in the tournaments.

“Today is one victory in the first Grand Slam. Happy for that. One month ago situation had been different — looks very ugly in some way.

“Now here we are.”

Nadal will next play Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis or Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann.

Elsewhere, American 18th seed Coco Gauff was dumped out of the first round in a blaze of unforced errors, losing 6-4, 6-2 to China’s Wang Qiang in a huge upset.

australian-open-tennis Gauff walks off the court after losing. Source: Hamish Blair

Gauff, the youngest player in the draw at 17, was dominated by the world number 110 in just 73 minutes of action on Margaret Court Arena.

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Gauff’s only bright spot in a one-sided second set came as she saved four match points from 5-0 down.

She was comprehensively beaten by Wang for the first time in three meetings between the pair, melting down to make 38 unforced errors.

“You know I lost two times against her last year so I just tried my best to focus on court,” said Wang.

The former Chinese number one, who famously knocked out Serena Williams en route to the fourth round at Melbourne Park two years ago, has dropped outside the top 100 since reaching a career-high singles ranking of 12 in September 2019.

British 12th seed Cameron Norrie was another major casualty after being beaten by American Sebastian Korda in straight sets on Monday.

Defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka breezed into the second round, registering her 23rd win in her last 24 matches with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

And Olympic champoion Belinda Bencic also prevailed despite a recent Covid diagnosis.

– © AFP 2022

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