PHOTOS/VIDEO: 2021 Australian Open R1 Rafael Nadal vs. Laslo Djere
2021 Australian Open R1 Rafael Nadal bt. Laslo Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1
Next opponent - Michael Mmoh
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal defied his gloomy injury prognosis and complete lack of match practice to crush Laslo Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 on Tuesday and reach the Australian Open second round as he launched his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title.
The Spanish great had pulled out of his nation’s ATP Cup campaign with a back problem and was bordering on mournful on the eve on the Grand Slam when he said the injury was still affecting him.
Yet he was close to his all-action, fist-pumping best as he bounced around a sun-bathed Rod Laver Arena in the final set against Djere and painted the lines with trademark top-spin bombs.
“It’s been a tough 15 days for me,” said 2009 champion Nadal. “I needed to survive today so that’s what I did.
“I’m still alive and that’s the main thing.”
Second seed Nadal said his back was still bothering him against world number 56 Djere, the Spaniard’s first match since losing in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals in November.
“Today it’s not great. I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That’s what I tried to survive that condition today,” said the 34-year-old.
“I need to go day-to-day and just try to stay positive.”
Nadal said he hoped to last as long as he could in Australia, where people have regained most of their pre-pandemic freedom after containing COVID-19.
Nadal had “no parties for one year already”, at home in Spain.
“Here (people) are in a different situation. They are able to stay together. They are able to go out and have fun and be a lot of people together in one place, so it’s a different story than what we are facing.
Q.How did you feel out there in your first official match in almost three months?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I was able to win in straight sets. It's always a positive start for me. Always difficult after not playing for a while, playing an official match in a while. A good start. Happy.
Q.Can I ask you about the gentleman you practiced with for a couple of times last week? He won his first match today.
RAFAEL NADAL: Who?
Q.Alcaraz. What's your impressions of him?
RAFAEL NADAL: He's very good. He's very young. He has everything to improve in the future with his age. He already is where he is, and he has a lot of great things on his game. I really believe that he will have a great future because he's a good guy, humble, hard worker. He has a lot of positive things.
Q.Where do you think the state of tennis is in terms of a quality between men and women, and what could be done more do you think?
RAFAEL NADAL: Repeat. Say again, please.
Q.The equality between men and women in the game of tennis, where do you think the state of it is right now?
RAFAEL NADAL: The quality in terms of level of tennis or in terms of what?
Q.In terms of just notoriety, in terms of exposure and even pay?
RAFAEL NADAL: I mean, I don't see no one sport in the world that is more equal than tennis.
Q.Is your back feeling good, and is it up to five-set tennis if it comes to that?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don't know. My back is not perfect, as I said a couple of days ago. Every day that I'm able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. That's the thing now. There is always a chance to improve, and that's why I'm here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance.
Today it's not great. I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That's what I tried to survive that condition today. Tomorrow a day off. After tomorrow, another match. I need to go day-to-day and just try to stay positive. Of course every day that I am trying to stay here longer is a day with a chance to get better finally, so that's what I am trying. Trying to do all the things possible to be ready for compete, for what I came here.
Q.In addition to dealing with injuries, what are the changes because of the pandemic to your routine as a tennis player? You're always somebody who has a very routine approach. You like to do things the same way. How have things changed for you?
RAFAEL NADAL: No, people think that I am a very routine guy because I do all these routines on court. But outside of the court I am completely the opposite. No, I am not a very organized guy.
With the pandemic, I don't know. I have been at home, honestly, not able to do a lot of things away from staying home, staying with family when the lockdown, when the hard lockdown finished, not able to stay much with the friends. But the situation is how it is today, so no parties for one year already, no big dinners or lunches with a lot of people. Yeah, we are living in a little bit more sad world, but we need to be able to adapt ourselves to this situation and do the things the best way possible to try to get better.
For example, here they are in a different situation. They are able to stay together. They are able to go out and have fun and be a lot of people together in one place, so it's a different story than what we are facing. We dream about be back to that situation.
Q.Another one on Carlos, he was telling us how the biggest thing he's learned from you is the intensity and to be focused on every point. I'm wondering how much you feel for a young player like Carlos who's trying to break through at this level, how important is it to have that mentality and intensity all of the time?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, he has it. He has intensity. He has the passion. I mean, he has the shots, and he's always the same in my opinion. He has all the ingredients to become a great champion.
Then it's all about how much you are able to improve during the next couple of years. Then that depends on how much you will be able to improve that will make the difference on -- he's going to be very good, but if you're going to be very good or if you're going to be an amazing champion, so that's all.
Q.I have a question actually about Jannik Sinner. He played Canadian Denis Shapovalov. They had a great five-set match. After that match Sinner said the biggest thing he took from being down under in Melbourne was practice with you. What does it mean to you to hear him say that, that he views you as such a role model, and I'm also curious if you had a chance to see the match between Denis and Jannik Sinner and what you thought.
RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah, I stayed on the bed watching the match until 1:00 a.m. Yeah, it's true. I had been watching. A great match, great level of tennis for both of them, emotional, sad for Jannik. Yeah, happy for Denis. That's it. That's the game. An unlucky first round, I think, for both of them.
I mean, Jannik is a great guy. I was able to know him a little bit more during that 15 days in Adelaide, and I think we had great practices, great atmosphere out there practicing together, not having a lot of fun because we were not able to have fun, but I think both of us, we enjoyed practicing together, and I think we did a good work. So yeah, I think -- honestly, he's a great guy. He's a guy with -- he's humble. He's relaxed. He's a good worker. The same thing that I talk about Alcaraz a few questions ago. He's already there fighting for important things, winning a title just the previous week. I mean, I am sure he's going to finish this year in a high position of the ranking. I don't have a doubt of that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
• Interview for Eurosport (ES)
Q. How important has it been to win the match in straight sets? What have been your feelings after the match?
Rafa: "The feelings are the logical feelings after being without competing for months. I think I've done what I needed to do today.
As for how important it has been, we'll know it in the future. Truth is that today I could have lost the tournament, but not win it. What I've done by winning in 3 sets is not to make things worse, as far as my back is concerned The feeling after the match isn't worse than before starting the match, which I think is a positive step forward. Now I have one day and a half to go on trying to recover to see if I, together with the doctors and physios, are able to find solutions.
Anyway, each day I'm here means more chances for things to improve. So, my job is to stay positive and 100% focused to evaluate every moment/situation, which is what I've done today & why I won in 3 sets, and look ahead in an optimistic way, as there is no other way around it."
Q. Can you tell us how the back pain affects your game, the mechanics and also what it means mentally to play with this back issue?
Rafa: "First of all, when you're playing with some limitation in a shot, everything becomes more difficult because you're paying attention to hit that shot in a different way from what you're used to in order to try not to worsen the issue. Thus, when I'm serving I'm not only thinking where to serve but also how to do it, so that the back doesn't hurt. When this happens, the reaction after the serve is slower and usually your game as a whole gets affected because of it. When I'm returning it doesn't bother me, tho if I start forcing the back, I can reach a point in which the back will not only hurt when I serve but also doing other things. In the way I served today, it was bothering me when I was serving, but not with any other shot. That's how things are right now. We'll see what happens. We're working very hard to try to improve. Any improvement, even if slight, is very welcome and hope to be a little bit better for the next match."