The end of 2017 wasn't the best for Rafael Nadal. He lost to a fifth straight match to Roger Federer in Shanghai and withdrew from the Rolex Paris Masters and the Nitto ATP Finals after his knee injury from China wasn't fully recovered yet.
Concerns about the world number one were raised after he withdrew both from the Mubadala World Tennis Championships and the Brisbane International, meaning he would have no lead-up to the Australian Open. He did get some warmup time in by playing in both the Kooyong Classic and the TieBreak Tens but his loss to Richard Gasquet in Kooyong raised concerns.
Nadal alleviated all those concerns in his opening match at the Australian Open with a straightforward 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Victor Estrella Burgos. He'll now face Leonardo Mayer in the second round, a rematch of their US Open showdown last year.
Lightning Opening Set For Nadal
Nadal worked quickly in the opening set. After holding serve to start the match, he got the break of serve right away after the Dominican sent a forehand long. While serving, the world number one was finding spots while also hitting with excellent speed which bodes well if he keeps it up throughout the tournament. He got his second break of serve in the set after Estrella Burgos dumped a slice backhand into the net.
Estrella Burgos finally got on the board in the sixth game after holding serve, much to the delight to the Aussie Crowd in Rod Laver Arena who were hoping he could get a few more. Nadal capped off the opening set with a drop shot winner, ending the set in only 23 minutes.
Nadal Battles Despite Blowout Scoreline
Just a couple of points in, Estrella Burgos won a point where he had drawn Nadal into the net and then lobbed him, capping the point off with a volley. He fist pumped to try and get himself and the crowd pumped up. After that though, he was forced to play plenty of defense as the Spaniard was hitting with fantastic depth. A few errors from overhitting gave Nadal the break.
The set was much longer than the first. Estrella Burgos and Nadal were exchanging long, grueling rallies at points, especially in the sixth game where Nadal was serving for the set. The Dominican had his first break opportunities in the match at 0-5, 30-40. He hit a slice backhand into the net as he looked up in frustration, thinking that that would be his only chance to get a break. He would get that break in his sixth try, ending the sixth game at 20 points.
Despite all of his efforts, the Dominican was exhausted trying to serve for 2-5. He was broken quickly as Nadal took the second set 6-1 in 46 minutes.
Nadal Races To The Finish Line
Like the previous two sets, the Spaniard flew out to a double break lead. The first break came on an overhit forehand from the Dominican, and the second came from a double-fault from Estrella Burgos.
Just like the opening set, Nadal had a chance to close it out by breaking in the sixth game, but the world number 79 held his ground on a low volley to get it to 1-5. On triple match point, Estrella Burgos sent a backhand return long as Nadal closed it out 6-1, 6-1, 6-1. The two met at the net and shared a warm embrace.