Rafael Nadal's Australian Open defence kicked off in bizarre fashion at Melbourne Park on Monday after the Spaniard's racquet went missing before his first round match against Britain's Jack Draper. The Spaniard booked his place in the second round with a gritty 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 win.
Nadal came into the contest against the in-form Brit with question marks about his own form and fitness after starting the season 0-2 for the first time in his career.
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Things got off to a less than ideal start for Nadal when he realised that a ball-kid seemingly took his racquet by accident moments before the first set was due to get underway. The Spaniard had apparently left one racquet aside to be re-strung and could be heard remonstrating with the chair umpire about the mix-up.
"It's this one for the stringer, not that one," he attempted to explain to the official. "I need the racquet back! It is not this one. I need the dampener and everything. The ball boy took my racquet!"
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Eurosport commentator Guy McCrea summed up the thoughts of many viewers after trying to explain what was happening. "I'm not sure what is going on here. Something is missing," he said on the broadcast.
"They have taken the wrong racquet to the stringer - the wrong one has been taken to the stringer, the one he was playing with. He plays with a vibration dampener and that has been taken with the current racquet he was playing with. I don't think he has a spare one, so I think there is going to be a delay here!
"Let's see if he can fish out another dampener here. He must have a spare one, surely! I think he is just getting one out of the packet there, and we are good to go here because he was a spare one!" Nadal is one of the most fastidious and superstitious players on the men's tour but the incident failed to derail him during the first set.
The 22-time grand slam champion still looked some way off his top form, with his movement and range of hitting seemingly affected by the injury concerns that dogged him during the back-end of 2022. However, the Spaniard did claim the crucial break in the opening stanza that saw him eventually take the first set 7-5.
Things began to unravel for Nadal in the second set as the 36-year-old made a series of uncharacteristic errors and Draper capitalised. Nadal appeared to be struggling physically as the Brit squared up the contest by taking the second set, 6-2.
The third set saw both players battling through discomfort on Rod Laver Arena, with Draper calling for the trainer at one point and Nadal still unable to assert his usual dominance on proceedings. Both players traded breaks in a sea-sawing tussle but it was Nadal's second that gave him a two-sets-to-one advantage.
Draper's physical state deteriorated considerably in the fourth set, with the Brit struggling for sideways movement as his cramps worsened. Nadal ruthlessly took advantage of the sad situation for the World No.38 as he romped to a 6-1 triumph to book his place in the next round.
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