BRISBANE • Rafael Nadal has started the new tennis season in impressive fashion. Yesterday, the Spaniard showed that he was fully fit as he thumped Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round of the Brisbane International.
The 14-time grand slam champion took just 74 minutes to cruise past the Ukrainian 6-3, 6-3 and show that he will be a force to reckon with at the Australian Open.
Nadal, who arrived in Brisbane only 36 hours before the match, took time to settle down as Dolgopolov, the world No. 62 played aggressively at the start to break the former world No. 1 in the fourth game. But the Spaniard, ranked ninth after battling knee and wrist injuries last year, bounced back to reel off the next five games to take the first set.
He proved too classy and consistent in the second set to win it easily, much to the delight of a sold-out Pat Rafter Arena crowd.
"I was very happy with that start," he said. "Winning against (Dolgopolov) is never easy."
The fifth seed will next face German Mischa Zverev, after the world No. 51 also recorded a 6-3, 6-3 scoreline to beat Australian teenager Alex de Minaur.
In the women's draw, French Open champion Garbine Muguruza saved a match point before seeing off Daria Kasatkina in the second round.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7) over the 19-year-old Russian, who served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, only to be broken by the fourth-seed.
Muguruza then kept her nerve in the tiebreak, holding on to win in just under three hours. It was her second three-set win in as many days after she edged out Australian Samantha Stosur on Monday.
"Obviously I'm tired," she said. "I would prefer to play a one-hour match and to be super good. But I think those tough matches are going to help me to win confidence."
Third seed Czech Karolina Pliskova stormed past US qualifier Asia Muhammad 6-1, 6-4. However, sixth seed Elina Svitolina was pushed hard by American Shelby Rogers before winning 7-5, 2-6, 7-5.
France's Alize Cornet booked a place in the quarter-finals when she demolished Christina McHale 6-2, 6-1.
Earlier, Australian teenager Destanee Aiava created a slice of history when she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a main draw match on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour.
The 16-year-old beat fellow qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a rain-delayed first-round match.
Aiava will create further history at the Australian Open later this month when she becomes the first player born in the 2000s to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament.
Born in Australia to rugby-loving Samoan parents who knew nothing about tennis, Aiava began playing the sport at the age of five after watching Serena Williams in the Australian Open.
"I think it was just her vibe," she said of Williams. "Like, I couldn't feel it from the other side of the TV, but it was just, like, her energy, and that kind of drew me to the sport."
Her powerful physique has drawn comparisons with Williams, and she admitted that she has based her game on the American superstar.
"Not so much a girl's game - more a guy's game," she said. "More variety."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE