Going into this Australian Open, surely the primary concern for many Nadal fans would be the health of the great man. The Spaniard had been hindered at the end of 2017 with a balky knee, and the issue persisted into the early part of this year, causing Nadal to withdraw from Brisbane. Nadal came into this tournament short on match play, but the draw gods smiled upon him and gave him a relatively easy quarter, which gives him plenty of time to play himself into full form. To that end, the focus for Rafa in his first few matches would be to stay healthy, move well, and get himself into a rhythm.
Tonight, Nadal appeared to tick all those boxes as he comprehensively dismissed his first round opponent, the 81st ranked Victor Estrella Burgos 6-1 6-1 6-1. Nadal, sporting the sleeveless top that he had abandoned at the 2009 Australian Open, turned back the clock and got off to a fast start as he held to love and broke a wild Burgos for 2-0. Nadal followed that up by crunching two forehand winners to take charge of the first set 3-0. This pattern continued, with Nadal’s forehand looking spectacular and Burgos’ showing he was not quite ready for the moment, and Nadal quickly broke again. Rafa once again followed with a routine hold, and after fifteen minutes of play Nadal had already built a 5-0 lead. Estrella Burgos would finally get on the board, slamming down a 127 mph serve-surprising pop for a little guy. However, Nadal was unfazed and sealed a clinical first set with a marvelous drop volley. 6-1 to Nadal after 25 minutes.
Estella Burgos started the second set with some spirit, winning an entertaining point at net. However, order soon restored itself and some loose errors from Estella Burgos gave Nadal the break to start the second set. Estella Burgos continued to fight, but Nadal zoned in his backhand, a bridge too far for the Dominican’s weaker wing. This pattern continued and Nadal quickly secured another break and then another, and in a flash he was serving for the second set at 5-0. Estella Burgos continued to hold his head up high and fight for every point, and this paid off as a Nadal forehand error set up a break point. However, Estella Burgos tamely sliced a backhand into the net. However, the diminutive Dominican’s resistance continued, as he generated four more break points, only to see them quickly erased by the Spaniard. However, on the fifth, some aggressive hitting saw Estella Burgos finally break through, and he secured a titanic break of serve as the crowd erupted. However, normalcy was restored in the next game, as Estella Burgos sent a forehand long to seal the second set for Nadal. This set was a little more entertaining than the first, but the result was the same-six games to one for Nadal.
The blip at the end of the second proved to be just that, and the third opened with Nadal holding to 15 and then breaking to love. Nadal would secure another break thanks to two splendid forehands down the line and a double fault from his opponent. This match was hurtling towards its inevitable conclusion, and sure enough, despite Estella Burgos holding one last time with a terrific forehand volley, Nadal completed the breadstick trifecta and wrapped up a clinical first round win
While Estella Burgos could not provide any semblance of opposition apart from one game, this match was a resounding success for Nadal as he looked fully healthy. Next up, he faces the always dangerous Leonardo Mayer, who took a set off him at the US Open.
Watch short highlights of the match here
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