Rafael Nadal made a convincing return to Grand Slam tennis with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over American Marco Giron in the first round of the Australian Open.
The sixth seed, the only man to bid for a 21st Grand Slam title these two weeks after Novak Djokovic was deported, cut short his 2021 season in early August with a foot problem.
His only Slam title in Melbourne came 13 years ago but he started the new year by winning an ATP Tour event in the same places, pushing Giron aside to reach the second round.
Nadal said: “Of course all comebacks are harder as you get a little older.
“This has been particularly difficult because it’s not just a comeback from injury, it’s a comeback trying to be back on the tour after almost two years of not playing many events with the virus.
“But here I am. I’m super happy with all the work we’ve done trying to be back. We enjoy tennis here and that’s it. We will keep trying.”
In the second round, the Spaniard meets the German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, who brought Australias Thanasi Kokkinakis back to earth.
Kokkinakis, who has been plagued by injuries in recent years, won an emotional first ATP Tour title in his hometown of Adelaide on Saturday but failed to confirm it, losing 6-2 6-3 2-6.
Matteo Berrettini is the highest seed left in the top quarter in Djokovic’s absence and he overcame stomach issues to beat Brandon Nakashima 4-6 6-2 7-6 (5) 6-3.
Salvatore Caruso couldn’t capitalize on stepping in for Djokovic as a lucky loser, losing to the compatriot of the world number ones 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 Miomir Kecmanovic.
Eighteen years old Carlo Alcaraz is one of the men looking to make it deep into the tournament from this section of the draw and, being seeded at a Slam for the first time, he made an impressive start with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win there Alexander Tabil.
Gael Monfils, in the same section, was another comfortable winner, batting Federico Coria 6-1 6-1 6-3 while there were also wins for the 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz and 14th seed Denis Shapovalov.
Elsewhere, Cameron NorrieThe winless start to the season continued with a disheartening loss to to Sebastian Korda, even in straight sentences.
The young American is one of the rising stars of the game and this was a very tricky draw for the British number one but a 6-3 6-0 6-4 result will surely be alarming for 12th seed Norrie being.
Both men recently tested positive for Covid-19 – Norrie in December and Korda on arrival in Australia.
But the American, son of former Melbourne champion Petr, was sharp from the start while Norrie immediately faced an uphill battle and never recovered.
The 26-year-old had a phenomenal 2021, unexpectedly climbing to the brink of the top 10 and winning one of the biggest titles on the ATP Tour in Indian Wells.
His success was built on a relentless physical and mental approach, but during the Davis Cup Finals in late November there were signs his efforts had taken a toll and there was little time to recover.
Losing three games to top-flight opponents at the ATP Cup to start the season, he failed to harass Korda at Melbourne Park’s new Kia Arena.
The 21-year-old belongs to the new generation of players over 6ft 5″ who are exceptionally mobile and he immediately hit the Norrie serve to secure an instant break.
There were a few more encouraging signs for Norrie towards the end of the first set, but he dropped serve again to start the second and Korda swept through nine straight games.
Norrie, who reached the third round here 12 months ago, at least put up a fight afterwards, but this match was quickly forgotten.