MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal didn’t give the impression he was lacking any confidence as he raced through the first round of the Australian Open with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win Monday over Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny.
Coming back from a right wrist injury and an appendix operation that sidelined him for most of last season after Wimbledon, and coming off a rare first-round loss in a tune-up event in Doha, the 14-time major winner said he had concerns about his fitness for the opening Grand Slam tournament of the year.
He didn’t show it, hitting 37 winners, breaking Youzhny twice in each set, holding his own serve comfortably and fending off the only break-point chance he faced.
“Last year, second half of the year had been tough mentally, tough physically for me,” he said. “I played four matches in the last seven months — that’s not enough to be back with confidence.”
The loss to Michael Berrer in Doha on Jan. 5 was another deflating result.
“When that happens after a tough period of injuries you arrive here with doubts,” he said. “This first match was tough mentally for me — (I) hope this match will give me confidence to play well next round.”
Nadal hasn’t won the Australian Open since 2009, but has reached the final in his last two trips to Melbourne Park, losing to Novak Djokovic in a 5-hour, 53-minute epic in 2012 and to Stan Wawrinka last year.
No. 2-ranked Roger Federer, who won the last of his four Australian titles in 2010, got a good workout in the first night match on Rod Laver Arena before beating Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
Three-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray began his quest for an elusive Australian title with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri.
Second-ranked Maria Sharapova followed up her recent title in a warm-up tournament with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Petra Martic in the last match of the day in the women’s draw which is already missing eight seeded players.
“I had a great start in Brisbane winning the title for the first time in my career — that was great to have those matches coming into such a big match in Melbourne,” she said.
No. 3 Simona Halep and No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard also advanced in straight sets, moving into the second round along with No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova, No. 14 Sara Errani, No. 21 Peng Shuai and No. 22 Karolina Pliskova.
Halep opened play on the main court with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Karin Knapp and Bouchard, who reached the semifinals or better at three majors last year, beat Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-2, 6-4.
No. 5 Ana Ivanovic was the highest-ranked of the first-round losers, struggling with her serve in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss to Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka in the first big upset of the tournament. Coming off a loss to Sharapova in the Brisbane final, Ivanovic had 10 double-faults and said she struggled badly with her serve.
No. 9 Angelique Kerber, No. 16 Lucie Safarova (16), No. 17 Carla Suarez Navarro, No. 23 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 28 Sabine Lisicki and No. 32 Belinda Bencic also lost on the opening day.
American Christina McHale was sick on court and saved a match point as she rallied to beat Stephanie Foretz 6-4, 1-6, 12-10.
There was less damage involving the top players on the men’s side, with No. 11 Ernests Gulbis and No. 15 Tommy Robredo — who retired with a groin injury after five games — making first-round exits.
Gulbis wasted four match points before losing to 18-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis in five sets in a late match — the Aussie teenager went around the court high-fiving fans to celebrate.
No. 7-seeded Tomas Berdych beat Alejandro Falla 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3, No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov defeated Dustin Brown 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 and No. 14 Kevin Anderson had a 7-6 (5), 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 win over Diego Schwartzman.
No. 20 David Goffin, No. 22 -seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 24 Richard Gasquet, No. 29 Jeremy Chardy and No. 32 Martin Klizan also went through.
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