RAFAEL Nadal and Ashleigh Barty made devastating starts to their Australian Open title campaigns on Monday as the Grand Slam attempted to move on from the Novak Djokovic visa saga. Naomi Osaka launched the defence of her women’s crown with victory but Coco Gauff was an early big-name casualty, the American 17-yearold dumped out in straight sets by Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.
The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside 66th-ranked Marcos Giron, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.
The draw has opened up for the Spanish great with defend- ing champion Djokovic out of the picture and the other member of the “Big Three”, Roger Federer, not at Melbourne Park because of injury. But the 35-year-old Nadal said he was just relieved to be playing tennis after Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated against Covid overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year right up until the last moment. Although Djokovic’s absence is good news for Nadal’s tilt at men’s tennis history, he said he would rather the world number one from Serbia was playing.
“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court,” said Nadal, who plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round. He may not be there, but Djokovic still looms over the tournament.Nadal was all guns blazing at Rod Laver Arena, showing no apparent ill effects from a foot injury he suffered last year and then being “very sick” with Covid in December.— AFP