Rafael Nadal outlasted a man 15 years his junior on the Australian Open’s first day, while Coco Gauff and Emma Raducanu set up a second-round showdown.
The defending champion Nadal, who was 1-6 in his last seven matches, beat 38th-ranked Brit Jack Draper 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1. Draper, 21, cramped considerably in the fourth set as Nadal advanced to play 65th-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald.
“I need a victory, so that’s the main thing,” said Nadal, who had more unforced errors (46) than winners (41). “Doesn’t matter the way.”
Jessica Pegula and Gauff breezed through their first-round matches, beginning what each hopes is a run to end the longest Grand Slam singles title drought for the U.S. in more than 50 years.
Pegula, the third seed, ousted 161st-ranked Romanian Jaqueline Cristian 6-0, 6-1 in 59 minutes on the first day of play in Melbourne. She next plays 38th-ranked Belarusian veteran Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Gauff, the seventh seed, dumped 46th-ranked Czech Katerina Siniakova 6-1, 6-4 on her seventh match point. She gets 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu of Great Britain in a blockbuster second-round match.
The 77th-ranked Raducanu didn’t make it past the second round of a major in 2022 after her breakthrough run through qualifying to win the U.S. Open without dropping a set at age 18. She withdrew from her first tournament this year with an ankle injury 10 days ago but rebounded to sweep 76th-ranked German Tamara Korpatsch 6-3, 6-2 in the first round in Melbourne.
The first day’s other headline: Australia’s biggest star, Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios, withdrew on the eve of his opening match.
It’s been three years and 10 Slams since an American man or woman won a major singles title (Sofia Kenin, 2020 Australian Open), the longest drought for the most successful nation in tennis history since Billie Jean King won her first Slam at Wimbledon in 1966.
Pegula and Gauff are the highest-ranked American singles players in either draw.
Pegula, the 28-year-old daughter of the Buffalo Bills owners, is at a career-high ranking after reaching the quarterfinals of three majors last year. She began the Australian Open as one of the top challengers to top-ranked Iga Świątek, having beaten the dominant Pole 6-2, 6-2 earlier this month.
“I don’t think I really am putting pressure on myself to duplicate  because I think it was very special and something that probably won’t be duplicated,” Pegula said last week.
Gauff, who at 18 is the youngest player in the WTA top 50, won her Australian Open lead-in tournament last week without dropping a set. Like Pegula, she had her best season in 2022, taking runner-up to Świątek at the French Open and reaching No. 4 in the world.
“If you look at, like, the top 10 right now, most of them are in their 20s, like 22 to 26,” Gauff said before the tournament. “As much as I would like to think this might be the best I’ll be, I don’t believe it because I feel like most of the tennis players, at least on tour now, are peaking in their career around 22 to 26.”
No. 28 Amanda Anisimova, one of five American women seeds, was the first seed to fall. The 61st-ranked Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk took her out 6-3, 6-4.
Świątek began her bid for her fourth Grand Slam singles title by sweeping 69th-ranked German Jule Niemeier 6-4, 7-5. Niemeier was dangerous, having made the Wimbledon quarterfinals and taken a set off Świątek in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Novak Djokovic, the record nine-time Australian Open champion looking to tie Nadal’s men’s record 22 major titles, plays his first-round match Tuesday against 75th-ranked Spanish veteran Roberto Carballés Baena.
This is the first major since the retirements of Serena Williams and Roger Federer last September. The tournament is also missing top-ranked 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain (injury), four-time major champion Naomi Osaka (pregnancy) and seven-time major champion Venus Williams (injury).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Australian Open: Rafael Nadal rolls, Coco Gauff to play Emma Raducanu originally appeared on NBCSports.com