Nadal Overcomes Knee Problem to Win 1st Match
Rafael Nadal has a new injury issue — a tendon problem in his right knee which nearly forced him to forfeit a first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday that he ultimately easily won.
Bothered by a left shoulder injury late last year, Nadal had his right knee heavily taped during his 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over Alex Kuznetsov. The injury occurred in the most innocent of ways — sitting in a chair in his hotel room when he felt "a crack" in his knee and some "unbelievable pain."
He had an MRI scan late Sunday which showed no major damage to his knee, but before that, the incident left him thinking "I wasn't 100 percent sure I would have a chance to play."
"That's in the past," Nadal said when asked about his shoulder injury in a post-match television interview. But it was a different story later when he talked about his knee.
"I was sitting on a chair in the hotel, I felt like a crack on the knee ... really strange, he said. "I stand up. I felt the knee a little bit strange. I moved the leg like this two times to try to find the feeling. After the second time, the knee stays with an unbelievable pain completely straight. I have no movement on the knee."
Nadal had an ultrasound which showed no major damage, but he still had concerns going into the match.
"I started with a little bit of a scare at the beginning, and nervous because I was really disappointed yesterday," he said. "But after the first 10 games ... I started to play with normal conditions.
"The best thing is I felt the knee very well. I really don't understand why happened everything, but I am really happy that today I was ready to play and I played a fantastic match."
Defending women's champion Kim Clijsters opened with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Portuguese qualifier Maria Joao Koehler, showing no signs of the hip spasms which forced her to withdraw from a tuneup event in Brisbane 10 day ago.
Four-time champion Roger Federer and women's No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki were aiming to join them in the second round when they played matches later Monday at Rod Laver Arena.
Li Na, who lost the Australian final to Clijsters last year, had a 6-3, 6-1 win over Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan. In the first featured match of the tournament, third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes in the opening match on center court.
The Hisense Arena crowd was solidly behind Nadal, particularly the groups of young women who screamed and whistled when he changed his shirt and yelled "We love you Rafa" and "Vamos Rafa!" between games. He didn't give them a chance to cheer for long, needing only about 30 minutes each to win the final two sets.
Clijsters similarly had an easy time in the second half of her match, breaking Koehler's serve in the deciding game of the first set and reeling off 13 straight points to start the second.
She claimed later that the win wasn't as easy as it looked.
"It was hard to really get a good rhythm out there," Clijsters said. "I did feel like I was seeing the ball probably not always as good as I would like to."
She said she'd dealt with the "emotions and stress" of her hip injury, claiming she was lucky even to get a few warmup matches in Brisbane.
Li was a trailblazer for China last year, reaching a Grand Slam singles final for the first time before losing to Clijsters at Melbourne Park. At the next major, she won the French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.
"I hope I can go one better this year," Li said of her Australian Open campaign. She had a confidence-boosting buildup that included match wins at the Hopman Cup and Sydney.
Of the six women who can reach the top ranking, eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska has the biggest task, having to win the Australian title. She had a battle on her hands just to make the second round, fending off American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2 in a three-hour match on Show Court 2.
Other women advancing included No. 16-seeded Peng Shuai of China, No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, No. 22 Julia Goerges, No. 26 Anabel Medina of Spain and Eleni Daniilidou of Greece beat 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-3, 6-2.
No. 19 Flavia Pennetta, No. 23 Lucie Safarova and No. 28 Yanina Wickmayer were among the first-round losers.
Most of the local attention Monday was on 19-year-old Bernard Tomic, who rallied from two sets down to beat No. 22-seeded Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. A five-set win over the 2009 semifinalist will no doubt give Tomic a confidence boost as he attempts to become the first Australian man since 1976 to win the national title.
"Today wasn't fun, it was torture," said Tomic, who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. "I don't know how I found the energy to lift, how I did it, but I thank the crowd."
Eighth-seeded Mardy Fish, the highest ranked of the U.S. men, had a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Gilles Muller to progress along with 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, No. 7 Tomas Berdych, No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, No. 13 Alexandr Dolgopolov, No. 18 Feliciano Lopez, No. 21 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and No. 30 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
No. 25 Juan Monaco, No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic and No. 31 Jurgen Melzer joined Verdasco as other seeded players to lose.