Nadal, Swiatek survive early tests, Kyrgios pulls out in Australian Open shock
MELBOURNE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Defending champion Rafa Nadal shrugged off a rocky build-up to reach the Australian Open second round with a four-set win over ailing Jack Draper on Monday after home favourite Nick Kyrgios dropped a Day One bombshell by pulling out injured.
Top women's seed Iga Swiatek also made heavy work of her opening match against a rising young talent before the Pole found her rhythm to beat German Jule Niemeier 6-4 7-5.
Spaniard Nadal came into Melbourne Park with only one victory since the U.S. Open and was on the back foot against Draper on a warm and humid afternoon at Rod Laver Arena before cramping trouble struck the 21-year-old Briton.
With Draper reduced to a groaning wreck, Nadal finished strongly to close out the match 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1.
A year on from the "Miracle of Melbourne", when Nadal came back from two sets down to topple Daniil Medvedev in a classic final, the Spaniard was happy to get through to his next match against American Mackenzie McDonald.
"If we put it in the perspective of what I've been through in the last six months, it was a positive start," the 36-year-old said.
"I played against one of the toughest opponents possible in the first round. He's young, he has the power and I think he has a great future in front (of him)."
Nadal's win will have been a relief for organisers, with one of the biggest draw cards in Kyrgios bowing out because of a knee problem on the eve of his opener.
Fears for Novak Djokovic amid reports he cancelled a second successive training session before his evening-session opener on a blazing hot Tuesday were eased after the nine-times champion stepped out for a late hit.
The Serb, who missed last year's tournament after being deported from Australia over his lack of COVID-19 vaccination, has been nursing a hamstring strain.
Kyrgios, runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon, revealed he had a torn meniscus and withdrew after practice with doubles partner Thanisi Kokkinakis.
"I'm devastated," said the Australian. "I'm just exhausted from everything, and obviously (it's) pretty brutal."
The withdrawal also ended Kyrgios and Kokkinakis's defence of the men's doubles title, a year after the "Special K's" drew massive crowds through their unlikely championship run.
With Kyrgios gone and last year's women's champion Ash Barty retired, the chances of another home winner are greatly diminished.
However, U.S. fans were encouraged after seeing Jessica Pegula, seeded third behind Swiatek and Ons Jabeur, needing less than an hour to beat Jaqueline Cristian 6-0 6-1.
Seventh seed Coco Gauff also raced into the second round, while last year's finalist and fellow American Danielle Collins needed three sets to defeat Anna Kalinskaya.
Pegula, who helped the United States win the inaugural United Cup, overpowered her Romanian opponent, and there were cheers from the Margaret Court Arena crowd when Cristian held serve in the second set to avoid the dreaded 'double bagel'.
"Definitely first matches are always tough, especially at a slam, there's so much hype and anxious nerves leading up. So I'm glad it went smooth," said Pegula.
Amanda Anisimova was unable to continue the good start for American women at the first Grand Slam since Serena Williams hung up her racket, the teary-eyed 28th seed tumbling out 6-3 6-4 at the hands of Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.
With Williams and Barty retired, and twice champion Naomi Osaka pregnant with her first child, Melbourne Park will almost certainly crown a first-time women's champion this year.
Victoria Azarenka is now the only former champion left in the women's draw after beating 2020 winner Sofia Kenin 6-4 7-6(3). read more
There were convincing early victories for two former U.S. Open champions.
Canadian Bianca Andreescu, the 2020 champion at Flushing Meadows, beat Marie Bouzkova 6-2 6-4, while 2021 winner Emma Raducanu made light work of Tamara Korpatsch in a 6-3 6-2 victory.
Briton Raducanu next faces teenager Gauff, who won in Auckland and confirmed her good form with a 6-1 6-4 win over Katerina Siniakova.
Italian 15th seed Jannik Sinner, the 2022 quarter-finalist, was the first man into the second round, rolling over Briton Kyle Edmund 6-4 6-0 6-2 on John Cain Arena.
In the evening, Russian Medvedev swatted aside Marcos Giron 6-0 6-1 6-2, while Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas downed Quentin Halys 6-3 6-4 7-6(6) and Felix Auger-Aliassime overcame fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil in four sets.
China celebrated a small triumph for its men's game when 17-year-old Shang Juncheng, the youngest player in the men's draw, beat German Oscar Otte.
That made him the first man from his nation to win a main draw singles match at the tournament in the professional era. read more
"It's huge for Chinese men's tennis. We've had really good players from the women's side, but not really big names in the men's," he said.
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