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Nadal matches best career start, Zverev expelled after striking umpire's chair

The 35-year-old Spaniard defeated American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2 in his first match since winning the Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal. (file photo)
Rafael Nadal. (file photo)
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Feb 23rd 2022, 8:57 AM

RAFAEL NADAL MATCHED his best career start to an ATP Tour season with a victory Tuesday in his first match since capturing the Australian Open title, reaching the second round of the Mexican Open.

Meanwhile German Olympic tennis champion Alexander Zverev has been expelled from the tournament after smashing his racket on the umpire’s chair several times and directing a foul-mouthed rant at the official, the ATP announced Wednesday.

“Due to unsportsmanlike conduct at the conclusion of his doubles match on Tuesday night, Alexander Zverev has been withdrawn from the tournament in Acapulco,” the governing body for men’s tennis tweeted.

Nadal continued his fine form as the 35-year-old Spanish left-hander defeated American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2 to book a hardcourt date with American Stefan Kozlov in the last 16.

“It has been a positive start, a good victory in straight sets. That’s always very positive for the confidence,” Nadal said.

The victory lifted Nadal to 11-0 this year, matching his best career start to any season. He also won 11 matches in a row to begin the 2014 campaign before losing to Swiss Stan Wawrinka in an Australian Open final.

Nadal won his men’s record 21st Grand Slam title at last month’s Australian Open, breaking the career mark of 20 Slam crowns he had shared with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

World number five Nadal broke 100th-ranked Kudla in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead and held from there to claim the first set of their first career meeting.

When Kudla sent a forehand long to surrender the first break of the second set, Nadal seized a 2-1 lead and held at love to 3-1.

Nadal broke again for a 4-1 edge and held twice more, claiming the victory on a forehand winner.

Fourth seed Nadal fired eight aces and won 36 of 40 points on his serve in the dominating outing.

The Spaniard seeks his 91st career ATP title and third of the year, having also won a Slam tuneup tournament at Melbourne.

However Zverev’s tournament is already over after the world number three in the world lost his cool when he and doubles partner Marcelo Melo of Brazil were beaten 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 by Britain’s Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliövaara of Finland.

The 24-year-old defending champion smashed his racket three times just below umpire Alessandro Germani’s feet before taking his seat and then rising again to verbally abuse the official and smash the chair one last time. He had apparently been irked by a line call during the match.

Zverev had been involved in a marathon first-round singles clash with American Jenson Brooksby that had finished early Tuesday morning – the latest-ever finish to a professional tennis match.

Zverev saved two match points before completing a 3-6, 7-6 (12/10), 6-2 win at 4.54am local time.

The first-round tie at the ATP event lasted three hours and 19 minutes.

Zverev’s mood may have been affected by fatigue after another long match in the doubles defeat, but he nevertheless risks further punishment from the ATP.

“If the Senior Vice President Rules & Competition determines that the default was particularly injurious to the success of the tournament or detrimental to the integrity of the sport, he may consider additional penalties (fines and/or suspensions),” reads the ATP rule book.

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Russian top seed Daniil Medvedev, the reigning US Open champion whom Nadal rallied past in five sets in the Australian Open final, began his run at the world number one ranking with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Frenchman Benoit Paire.

If Medvedev wins the Acapulco title, he is assured of overtaking Djokovic atop the rankings no matter how the Serbian star fares this week at Dubai.

Medvedev would become the 27th player to reach world number one and only the third Russian, joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1999) and Marat Safin (2000-01).

The last player outside of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Britain’s Andy Murray to sit atop the rankings was American Andy Roddick in February 2004.

Medvedev will next play Spain’s 68th-ranked Pablo Andujar. 

Updated at 8.55am and 9.53am.

– © AFP 2022

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