Nadal continues comeback with a 1st win in Brisbane

Nadal continues comeback with a 1st win in Brisbane

BRISBANE, Australia — Rafael Nadal was in need of some sleep, so he didn’t waste much time against Alexandr Dolgopolov on Tuesday.

The 14-time major champion, playing his opening match at the Brisbane International a day after arriving in Australia following a win in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, beat the Ukrainian 6-3, 6-3 after getting on court at almost 10:30 p.m. local time.

Returning from a wrist injury which curtailed the end of his 2016 season, Nadal said he’s determined to use every match as preparation for a shot at the title in the season-opening Grand Slam event in Melbourne.

The 30-year-old Spaniard dropped serve in the third game but recovered to win the last five games of the first set against the 2012 finalist. In all, he converted all four of his break points and fended off three of the four he faced.

“A little bit of jet lag. It’s tough, these kinds of things at the beginning,” said Nadal, who added that he was still sleeping in the early afternoon and felt “destroyed” after the travel. “There wasn’t a lot of time to adapt.”

He only made nine unforced errors, and his most glaring miss of the night was when whiffed at a ball as he tried to hit it into the crowd to celebrate his win.

In a post-match news conference, he apologized after stifling a yawn, but said he still preferred the late start to help him overcome the jetlag.

Nadal has changed his preparation for the Australian Open, arriving two weeks ahead of time to fine tune his game in a bid to make amends for a shocking first-round exit last year.

He will next play Mischa Zverev, who opened with a 6-3, 6-3 win over teenage Australian qualifier Alex De Minaur, and has a potential quarterfinal match against defending champion and top-seeded Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont.

Also, sixth-seeded Lucas Pouille lost the first five games before rebounding for a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) win over Gilles Simon, while Viktor Troicki beat Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka 6-4, 7-5 and Diego Schwartzman had a 6-2, 6-4 win over Sam Querrey.

In first-round doubles play, Toronto’s Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France posted a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania.

In the women’s draw, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina, who all had career-highlight victories over Serena Williams last season, are already through to the quarterfinals.

Destanee Aiava, a 16-year-old high school senior who was inspired to take up tennis when she was 5 after watching Williams on TV, also made a mark.

Aiava became the first player born in the 2000s to win a main draw match in an elite WTA event when she beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a first-round match that spanned two days. She already has a wild-card entry to the Australian Open but, before then, will face two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round in Brisbane.

The third-seeded Pliskova, who beat Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals last year before losing the final to Angelique Kerber, defeated American qualifier Asia Muhammad 6-1, 6-4 to secure the first spot in the quarterfinals.

Svitolina, seeded sixth and the only woman to beat both Williams and Kerber when in 2016, advanced with a 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 win over Shelby Rogers. The fourth-seeded Muguruza wasted a match point and saved one before clinching a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win over Daria Kasatkina in a three-hour night match. Both players had eight service breaks and Muguruza, who beat Williams in the French Open final last year to claim her first Grand Slam title, dropped her opening serve in all three sets.

Her next match will be against either Kuznetsova or Aiava, who was born on May 10, 2000, was No. 386 in the latest rankings and is very new to the tour.

“Pretty crazy,” Aiava said of her first trip to the locker rooms in the main draw. “I walk in, and there is people I have watched on TV before and it’s, like, ‘Oh!'”

Her mother, Rosie, has been her coach since she showed interest in the game. She keeps the teenager grounded.

After her milestone win, Aiava said her mother just said “good job” and took her back onto the practice courts for 20 minutes to work on her serve.

John Pye, The Associated Press

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