World number six Rafael Nadal opened his 2022 campaign with a victory over Ricardas Berankis at Melbourne Summer Set, moving into the tournament quarter-finals.
Rafael Nadal hit the Rod Laver Arena Thursday to play his first singles tour-level match against Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis, overcoming the 31-year-old 6-2, 7-5 after one hour and 32 minutes in their first-ever meeting.
“Of course, it’s important to start with a victory. That gave me the chance to play another time tomorrow, and that’s the main thing at this moment because I didn’t play for such a long time,” the Spaniard said.
Nadal, who brought his 2021 to an early end due to a lingering left foot injury, had last contested a singles match in August at the Citi Open in Washington, falling to South African Lloyd Harris 4-6, 6-1, 4-6.
In Melbourne, the Manacor native further outlined: “Honestly, I’ve been going through some difficult, challenging moments the last year and a half, but in general terms, I’m super happy to be back in competition.
The top seed will meet Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor, who defeated local favorite Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 at the Margaret Court Arena.
The opening set saw Nadal breaking early to open a 3-1 lead over his adversary, advancing to secure the win 6-2 in 31 minutes.
The players returned to the court, exchanging early breaks in the second set. It was a tight encounter in which Berankis, attempting to earn a third career top-10 win, came back from 2-5 to level the tie 5-5.
However, Nadal soon recovered to seal victory 7-5, winning 78 percent of his first-serve points, moving into Melbourne Summer Set quarter-finals.
The event runs in Melbourne Park from January 4-9 featuring the ATP 250 venue and two WTA 250 tournaments.
On Wednesday, the 35-year-old made his inaugural appearance in 2022, playing doubles at the event, partnering with Jaume Munar.
“In doubles, things always happen fast. It makes you feel alive on the tour again. I think that was a positive thing.”
The Spanish duo claimed victory over Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry and Sebastian Baez 6-3, 3-6, 10-4 in one hour and 57 minutes.
Despite the results, his performance assessment after being away from the tennis courts for nearly five months was positive.
“I was able to show a competitive level in two matches this week, and that is a very positive thing for me,” he stated at the time.
Following his return to Spain, he tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the “King of Clay” to isolate himself, casting doubts on whether he could return in time to play the first major of the season, the Australian Open.
“As a result of the situation, I have to have total flexibility with my calendar, and I will analyze my options depending on my evolution. I will keep you informed of any decisions about my future tournaments,” he wrote on social media.
Fortunately, the 88-time ATP titlist recovered in due time to fly to Australia and play at Melbourne Summer Set as preparation for the grand slam.
On a further note, on January 4th, local star Nick Kyrgios, who received a main draw wildcard into ATP 250 event, pulled out due to health issues (asthma).
“I’m really sorry that I’ve had to pull out from this Melbourne Summer Set event. I have been feeling run down and unwell for four days. I have had several Covid tests over the last few days, which all came back negative,” Kyrgios remarked.
Adding: “I don’t feel 100 percent, so I need to take this week to be ready for Sydney next week. I was really looking forward to experiencing the best fans in the world here at home! I can’t wait to get back out there and see you all. Take care out there and see you soon.”
The Australian Open (AO) will run from January 17-30 at Melbourne Park.