Melbourne: Rafael Nadal’s quest to complete his “Rafa Slam” at the Australian Open started with a first-round victory that lasted only 47 minutes and helped conserve plenty of energy.
Nadal led 6-0, 5-0 when his Brazilian opponent Marcos Daniel retired with a left knee injury on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old Spaniard sympathized with Daniel. Nadal retired from the last Australian Open with an injured knee in a quarterfinal loss to Andy Murray. But he recovered quickly and won the next three majors and is now aiming to be the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam trophies at the same time.
“It’s terrible feeling, for sure. I wish him all the best for a fast recovery,” Nadal said after the match. “Last year was a really difficult time when I played this tournament. I came back here playing well ... but to go out like that was hard mentally.
“Finally, I had a very good season in 2010.”
Good season is the understatement of the tournament. Nadal won the French Open, then Wimbledon and finally claimed his first U.S. Open title. With Tuesday’s victory, he’s now on a roll of 22 consecutive match wins in Grand Slam tournaments.
“I came back after a difficult situation. Winning Roland Garros was very important, it allowed me to play the rest of the season with a little bit more calm.”
Daniel had a medical time out at the end of the first set and had his left knee heavily strapped.
When the Brazilian had a break point in the second game of the second set, he raised both arms and received a rousing cheer from the crowd. When Nadal had a rare miss with a wild overhead that sailed over the baseline to give the Brazilian a second break point chance, the crowd went wild again.
Nadal finally held after the game went to deuce five times and it progressively seemed only a matter of time before Daniel would retire as he limped around.
Australian wild-card entry Bernard Tomic advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (5) win over Jeremy Chardy of France. He is a potential third-round opponent for Nadal.
Hoping a third time will be luckier, Vera Zvonareva began her bid to reach a third consecutive Grand Slam final with a commanding 6-2, 6-1 win over Sybille Bammer in the opening match Tuesday on Rod Laver Arena.
Zvonareva, who lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final and to Kim Clijsters in the U.S. Open final last year, dominated the first set against the 30-year-old Bammer and tightened her grip on the match in the second. She conceded only four points in the first four games of the second set and didn’t allow the Austrian to hold until the sixth game.
“It’s tough to play your best tennis in the first match. The most important thing is I’ve done what I needed to do and moved through to the next one,” Zvonareva said.
Nadal’s easy run to the second round came the day after his chief rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic got their campaigns started with straight-sets wins on Monday.
Defending champion Federer dismantled Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. The 16-time Grand Slam champion is aiming to become only the second man to win the Australian Open five times; Roy Emerson won six.
Djokovic took no chances against Marcus Granollers, soundly beating the 24-year-old Spaniard 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. He thinks it’s premature for anyone to be talking about winning the title.
“I try to think about myself and my matches, the opponents that I have to face, not about the other guys,” he said. “Of course, all the credit to Rafa and Roger. They are deservedly the two biggest favorites to win this tournament. They’re the two best players of the world.
“(But) definitely this performance gives me more confidence and gives me enough reason to think that I can beat anyone.”
Eighth-seeded American Andy Roddick had a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic.
“I feel healthy and strong for the first time in a while,” he said.
His US Davis Cup teammates had a tougher time, with Mardy Fish coming back from two sets down to win in five for the first time in his career and Sam Querrey losing in a five-setter.
No. 18 Querrey went down 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6 to Lukasz Kubot of Poland, while No. 18 Fish overcame Victor Hanescu of Romania 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Caroline Wozniacki started her first major tournament as the No. 1-ranked woman with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Argentina’s Gisela Dulko, while fourth-seeded Venus Williams advanced 6-3, 6-2 over Sara Errani of Italy 6-3, 6-2.
Clijsters, growing as a favorite to win the Australian title, faced a difficult first-round match Tuesday night against former No. 1-ranked Dinara Safina.
Clijsters’ fellow Belgian Justine Henin had her struggles against Indian qualifier Sania Mirza before winning 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in what she called her “first official match in six months” on Monday evening.