Australian Open: Rafael Nadal off to strong start

After a stunning first-round loss at the Australian Open last year, Rafael Nadal got off to a far better start at the 2017 event, cruising past Florian Mayer in straight sets. The 2009 champion down under did a good job of out-hitting the tricky German, breaking early in the opening set and never surrendering control on his way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory. The Spaniard, not renowned for his serve, was dominant, not facing a break point in the match.

Early break enough for Nadal

Nadal did not waste much time in taking the initiative, grinding to break point in Mayer’s second service game. The crafty German was up to the task, winning a hard-hitting rally with a big forehand up the line. Nadal would slice an approach backhand long on his second break point, but Mayer would finally give the break away by driving his shot long on the third.

Nadal slides into a forehand. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Nadal slides into a forehand. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Mayer tried to push back and reclaim the break, but Nadal was up to the task, defending his serve before having an opening to break for the set in the eighth game. The Spaniard raced ahead 0-40, triple set point, only for Mayer to save all three with his first serve along with another at 40-AD with a leaping backhand down the line before going on to hold. The German was only delaying the inevitable, as Nadal would hold to love in the following game, closing it out with an ace.

Late break puts Nadal in command

Early in the second, Nadal had chance after chance to seize control, but struggled to keep his forehand in the court. Still, he had a chance to break in the fifth game when Mayer sent a forehand wide, but the German would save the break point with a smash. Mayer struggled to close out the game, needing multiple game points to hold after a marathon game.

Florian Mayer lines up a forehand. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Florian Mayer lines up a forehand. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The set would remain on serve until the crucial ninth game, when Mayer finally blinked. Up 30-15, Mayer dumped an easy shot into the net to let Nadal back into the game. After taking a 40-30 lead, he sliced an overhead from the baseline wide to allow Nadal a deuce opportunity. The following point saw Mayer in the midcourt drilling Nadal from side to side, only for the Spaniard to stay alive and eventually rip a forehand winner up the line to bring up a break point. Nadal failed to convert, but a Mayer error gave him a second chance and he drew an error to grab the break. He would hold to the following game to take a commanding two sets to love lead.

Nadal powers through

There was nothing between the two men through the early exchanges of the third set, as the pair continued to exchange blows from the baseline. Mayer was doing a far better job of not giving points away on his own serve, but he still had no answer for Nadal’s brilliant serve.

Nadal unleashes a serve during his victory on Tuesday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Nadal unleashes a serve during his victory on Tuesday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Just like the second set, Mayer began to struggle at the worst possible moment, serving at 4-4. After Nadal ripped a forehand passing shot for a 15-30 lead, Mayer threw in his first double fault of the match to give the Spaniard double break point. He saved the first, but couldn’t handle a big Nadal forehand and netted his return to give the ninth seed a chance to serve out the match. As he had all day, Nadal dominated his final service game, holding to 15 and closing with a forehand winner.

By the Numbers

While Nadal is not exactly a slouch on serve, he was masterful on Tuesday, winning 77 percent of his first serve points, 83 percent of his second serve points (only losing four), had six aces (to Mayer’s seven) and did not face a break point in the match. Not surprisingly, Nadal had a massive lead in the winners department, 39 to 23, although he also had more unforced errors with 31 to Mayer’s 27. The ninth seed could have been better at converting break points, only winning three of 12, although it was still enough for the win.

Nadal will play former Australian Open runner-up (in 2006) Marcos Baghdatis in the second round.