Rafael Nadal showed there was plenty of life in his battered body yet when he cast aside the disappointments of last year to reach the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Florian Mayer on Tuesday.
“I have been practising quite a lot..” Rafael #Nadal into 2R #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/fnn1iF5lBj— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2017
Easily avoiding the embarrassment of a back-to-back first round exits at Melbourne Park, the 30-year-old needed a single break in each set to proceed after a little over two hours in the brutal afternoon sun.
The Spaniard sealed the victory with a 39th winner, the 25th off his awesome forehand, and raised his arms to the skies to accept the salute of the crowd on the court where he won the title in 2009.
Rafael Nadal signs autographs after winning his Australian Open men’s singles first round match against Germany’s Florian Mayer on Tuesday (REUTERS)
“It’s never easy in the first round,” Rafael Nadal said. “There are always a few more nerves at the beginning. The way that he plays is not conventional. It’s not easy to read his game.
“So I’m just happy with the way that I played. I played well in all the key points. That’s very important for me.
“For me it’s a great victory.”
Seeded ninth after a 2016 season which started with the five-set upset at the hands of Fernando Verdasco at Melbourne Park and was seriously disrupted then curtailed by a wrist injury, Rafael Nadal next faces Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
Rafael Nadal signs autographs at Melbourne Park on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
The wrist injury forced him to withdraw from last year’s French Open and miss Wimbledon, meaning he failed to reach the quarter-finals of any of the Grand Slams for the first time since 2004.
No doubt a-boat it: Rafa loves the water.
We took our 2009 champ @RafaelNadal out on the Yarra River ahead of the main draw. ??⚓️ #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/PyAWAvIchm— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2017
After illustrating with his performance that the joint was enabling him to fire on all cylinders, Nadal said he was now fit enough to practise in the way he wanted.
“Body’s good, and that’s the key, if the body is not good then everything is more and more difficult, I had to stop before the end of last season,” he added.
“After Roland Garros, everything was so difficult. Too many problems with the wrist and that’s all in the past now.
“Happy to be healthy and happy to be on the tour again.”
Rafael Nadal uses a towel to wipe sweat during a break as he plays Germany’s Florian Mayer in their first round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Tuesday. (AP)
As his great rival Roger Federer remarked recently, a litany of injuries over his career have forced Nadal to become something of a past master at the tennis comeback.
“It’s about getting your confidence back,” he said. “It’s important. When you are playing and playing and winning matches, then you have things that comes automatically.
“You don’t need to think much about the things that are happening or the way that you played points.”
In that regard, Nadal was delighted that his serve remained rock solid throughout the contest, with Mayer unable to rustle up a single break point.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion was watched by fellow Mallorcan Carlos Moya, the former world number one who Nadal has brought into his coaching team for this year.
“He’s a great friend of mine, he was a very important person in my career in the early days,” said Nadal.
“For me to have him on the bench helping with the rest of the team makes me happy. I’m excited about 2017.”