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Monday, April 22, 2024

Australian Open: Nadal tames young talented Jack Draper

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Melbourne: Rafael Nadal tamed promising 21-year-old Jack Draper in a heavily-hyped battle of the southpaws in the first outing of his Australian Open title defence here on Monday.

The top seed was pressed for the initial three hours before his physicality proved too strong for the Briton in a 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 triumph.

Fending off persistent questions of retirement after a pair of scratchy losses to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur at the United Cup leading in, Nadal insisted he had made up significant ground in the weeks since.

No one dared question his ability to turn it on for a major after his heroics from two sets down to deny Daniil Medvedev in last year’s final but if there was ever a chance to catch the Spaniard underdone, Draper knew it was better to have drawn him early on.

The 21-year-old Briton was arguably one of the toughest opening unseeded tasks in this year’s men’s draw, AO reported.

Neither player could be separated through the first 11 games before Nadal began to up the ante.

A flicked forehand passing shot curled past Draper, leaving him shaking his head in frustration at a poor drop shot attempt.

It was a momentary brain fade that proved telling and the only invitation the top seed needed as he thumped three forehands – two for clean winners – to snatch a tight opening set.

Unperturbed, Draper broke immediately on a flawless volley in the second set and with a double break and momentum soon firmly in his corner the match headed to a third set.

While Draper managed to peg back a break, he needed to have his left leg massaged at the change of ends before he stepped up to serve at 4-5.

His average first-serve speed was slowly dipping with each passing set as he struggled to maintain his level and after losing a gruelling 66-minute third set, the wheels fast began to wobble.

The Spaniard was beginning to wear down his younger opponent.

As the last of the after shadows vanished, Draper pulled up suddenly to surrender a lengthy exchange and soon after, the telling break.

Cramps took hold and his 36-year-old foe surged to the finish line.

American Mackenzie McDonald now has the uphill task of facing the top seed in the second round.

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