Rafael Nadal launched his Australian Open title defence with a four-set victory over Britain’s Jack Draper on Monday as home hope Nick Kyrgios quit through injury without hitting a ball.
Spanish great Nadal, 36, had been in poor form by his sky-high standards, losing six of his last seven matches stretching back to defeat in the last 16 at the US Open.
In fast-rising Draper, 21, the 22-time Grand Slam champion faced a stern test to start his campaign at a sweltering Melbourne Park.
The top seed recovered from a second-set wobble – and a bizarre incident when a ball boy accidentally took his racquet – to defeat the 38th-ranked Briton 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 at Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal, who recently became a father, faces American Mackenzie McDonald in round two.
“Very exciting, new beginning, just super-happy to be back at Rod Laver with a victory I needed,” he said after grinding down Draper.
“Last couple of months have not been easy for me.”
Nadal was on court when Australia’s talented but temperamental Kyrgios called a hastily arranged press conference and announced that he was out of the tournament with a knee injury.
“I’m devastated, obviously,” said the Wimbledon finalist, who was considered an outside bet to win a maiden Grand Slam crown.
“I’ve had some great tournaments here, winning the doubles last year and playing the tennis of my life probably going into this event.
“I’m just exhausted from everything, and (it’s) obviously pretty brutal.”
The first Grand Slam of the year had already lost several stars in the build-up.
Injured men’s world number one Carlos Alcaraz and two-time Melbourne champion Naomi Osaka – who is expecting her first child – are among the other players missing.
Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who was detained and deported ahead of last year’s tournament after refusing to get vaccinated for Covid, begins his title assault on Tuesday.
Other winners on Monday included third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who saw off dogged Vasek Pospisil in an all-Canadian clash.
21st seed Borna Coric fell to Czech player Jiri Lehecka in straight sets.
Medvedev begins campaign with straight-sets win
Meanwhile, two-time losing finalist Daniil Medvedev fired up his bid to go one better at the tournament with a straight-sets demolition of Marcos Giron.
The Russian seventh seed, almost a foot taller than his opponent, blasted past the 56th-ranked American 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena in just 1hr 36mins.
His reward is a second-round clash with Australian wildcard John Millman, who came through a five-setter against Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler.
“Really happy with the match, Marcos is a tough opponent and to beat him with this score in the first round of a Slam is great,” he said. “I’m really happy about my level.”
Medvedev was a losing finalist at the last two Australian Opens, to Novak Djokovic in 2021 and then in a demoralising five-set defeat 12 months ago against Rafael Nadal after leading by two sets.
“Great memories of last year, but I definitely want to have better ones this year,” he said.
The 2021 US Open champion rebounded from that disappointment by becoming world number one, where he spent 16 weeks.
But he has since seen his ranking slip to eight after only making the round of 16 at both Roland Garros and the US Open last year. He was unable to compete at Wimbledon due to the Ukraine war.
Djokovic and Nadal continue to pose a roadblock in his quest for a second Grand Slam title, but his form against Giron suggests he is peaking at the right time.
The American broke into the top 50 and contested a Tour-level final for the first time in 2022, but he was no match for the Russian.
Medvedev broke his first service game and there was no looking back, steaming through the first set in 37 minutes and the second in only 26 minutes, with Giron hitting just three winners.
The stunned Giron put up a slightly better fight in the third set, but he had already lost the battle.
Medvedev is bidding to become just the fourth man in the Open era to reach three consecutive Australian Open finals, after Djokovic, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl.
He has never played Millman before and is wary.
“He’s a great player, especially here in Australia,” he said.
“He’s capable of some great tennis so I’m going to have to play my best.”