Tennis

2023 In Review: Rafael Nadal scores his only win of the season

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Rafael Nadal entered the season behind us as world no. 2, claiming two Major titles in 2022. No one could have thought that Nadal’s only ATP win of the season would come in the Australian Open first round. Rafa kicked off the title defense with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 triumph over the young Briton Jack Draper in three hours and 41 minutes. The veteran dug deep in the opening three sets, forging the advantage and breaking the rival’s resistance in the fourth set, securing at least one ATP victory in 22 consecutive seasons! Also, the Spaniard matched Ivan Lendl’s 1068 ATP victories. Nadal hit 41 winners and 46 unforced errors, struggling behind the initial shot but defending seven out of 11 break points. Draper lost serve six times from 12 opportunities offered to Nadal, falling in four sets despite a great effort in the opening three sets. Jack overpowered Rafa in the shortest exchanges, and the more experienced player responded in the more advanced ones. The servers made an impressive start, and Nadal held at 15 in game seven for 4-3. Draper faced a break point in game eight, saving it with a booming serve and holding to remain on the positive side. 

Rafael Nadal ousted Jack Draper in the first round of the Australian Open.

Nadal produced six comfortable holds, keeping the pressure on the other side. The Spaniard forced the Briton’s mistake in the 12th game, creating a set point and converting it with a forehand crosscourt winner for 7-5 after 54 minutes. The youngster made a fresh start in the second set, serving well and turning the tables. Nadal wasted three game points in the first game, and Draper grabbed a break with a forehand volley winner at the net. Jack cemented the lead with a service winner in game two, holding at love and gaining confidence. Doing everything right, the Briton cracked a backhand down the line winner in the third game, delivering another break and moving 3-0 in front. Rafa faced two more break points in the fifth game, risking a bagel. He stayed focused, defended them and held for 1-4. Jack held with a service winner for 5-1 and served for the set in game eight.

The young gun fired a booming serve to wrap up the set and level the overall score after an hour and 47 minutes. Rafa held at 30 in the third set’s third game and grabbed a break in the next one after Jack’s costly double fault. Draper struggled physically, receiving a medical timeout on his right leg. The young gun broke back in game seven after Nadal’s forehand error, looking good to make a complete comeback. Rafa held at 30 in game nine and forced Jack’s mistake in the next one for a set point. Draper denied it with an ace and wasted a game point. The Spaniard seized the second set point after the Briton’s backhand error, taking two sets to one advantage after two hours and 53 minutes.

Jack clinched the third break point at the start of the fourth set with a backhand winner before spraying a forehand error in the next one, bringing Rafa back to 1-1. Nadal held at love for 2-1 and broke for the third straight time after Draper’s loose forehand. The veteran held at love in game five, moving 4-1 up and breaking the rival’s resistance, with the young gun struggling physically. Unable to serve properly, Jack got broken in the sixth game after a wild forehand, falling 5-1 behind before creating two break chances in game seven. Rafa denied them and sealed the deal after Jack’s loose forehand, advancing into the second round. 

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