Former champion Rafael Nadal showed no signs of discomfort from his thigh strain as he sailed through to the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over local hope James Duckworth on Monday.
The first meeting between the 17-times Grand Slam champion, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2009, and Australian wildcard Duckworth, who is ranked 238 in the world, always had the potential to be an uneven contest.
The second-seeded Spaniard had pulled out of the Brisbane warm-up with a thigh strain to raise doubts about his campaign but he allayed those fears on Rod Laver Arena against an error-prone opponent.
The Spaniard, who will next meet the winner of Australian Matthew Ebden’s contest with Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, broke Duckworth six times while surrendering his serve twice and brought an end to the match with a brilliant cross-court winner.
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Former champion Maria Sharapova gave hapless Harriet Dart a 6-0, 6-0 shellacking to fly into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday and had no words of comfort to offer the British qualifier after leaving her in tears.
In the opening match on Rod Laver Arena, the 30th seeded Russian was all over the 131st-ranked Dart from the first point and wrapped up the match in little more than an hour after a ruthless barrage of power hitting.
The centre court humiliation had Dart weeping as she beat a hasty exit and Sharapova had little sympathy for the 22-year-old after her nightmare debut at Melbourne Park.
“I mean, there is no time for that, I’m sorry to say,” the 2008 winner told reporters.
“But when you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam – I have been in many positions, last year Wimbledon I came out against a qualifier that played really well.
“You know, there is no doubt that my level wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but she was there to take the match.
“So I’m not so much worried about my opponent, but I have to step up when the time is right and when I need to, so that’s my main goal.”
Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens cruised past fellow American Taylor Townsend to end her Australian Open hoodoo and advance to the second round on Monday.
Stephens, seeded fifth this year, has endured a horror run at Melbourne Park since reaching the semi-final in 2013.
The 25-year-old exited in the first round in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and also missed 2017 with a foot injury.
There were also questions about the 2017 US Open winner’s form coming into the tournament after poor performances this month at warm-ups in Brisbane and Sydney.
But she looked comfortable seeing off 93rd ranked Townsend 6-4, 6-2, growing in confidence as the match wore on.
Stephens initially stumbled to go down a service break but immediately broke back to take the first set after 32 minutes.
She was in control of the second set from the offset, serving strongly and hitting accurate returns to run Townsend around in the heat.
The only wobble came when she struggled to close out the match, blowing four match points on Townsend’s serve before going on to claim victory off her own racquet.
Stephens is seeking greater consistency at Grand Slams after strong performances last year to reach the final at Roland Garros and quarters at Flushing Meadows were offset by first-round exits in Australia and Wimbledon.
(With inputs from agencies)
First Published: Jan 14, 2019 10:02 IST