Nadal gets the warm-up he needed with first-up win

Nadal d Estrella Burgos, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1
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Rafael Nadal didn’t have a warm-up match before the n Open. Instead he had Victor Estrella Burgos in the first round.

Estrella Burgos, from the Dominican Republic, is a dogged player. He is ranked 81 in the world, but on the Open’s opening night he provided Nadal with a match that was more important for the time on court it gave the world No.1 than for the possibility of defeat.

Nadal was feeling out his body and his game more than his opponent, examining his forehand and serve, ticking off his court coverage and how his grumbly knee would cope.

“I started a little slower than usual (this season) but we wanted to do things the right way,” Nadal said.

Looking across the net at the hard-working 37-year-old might have given him some comfort but at 31 himself, Nadal has been increasingly aware the end is getting closer.

“I know one day I won’t have the chance to play again in this court I want to enjoy every year I am here. I don’t know how many more years I have here but I want to enjoy it.”

In the second set, after completing the first 6-1 in 23 minutes, Nadal flicked a backhand return from deep in the court that was barely more than a twitch from a ball that Estrella Burgos had struck as hard and flat, deep and wide as he possibly could. The Nadal wrist flick redirected the ball back across Estrella Burgos for a winner. The Spaniard confirmed his touch was there along with his power.

For the Dominican it confirmed that as valiantly as he tried – he worked hard – and no matter what he threw at Nadal – he threw everything at him – it was as effective as a water balloon.

In the second set he finally claimed a service break from Nadal – his first game won for the set – and it prompted a celebration like he had won the match. The crowd was behind him.

Estrella Burgos has made a career of working harder than others to get where he wants. He won his first singles title in 2015 at the Ecuador Open and became the oldest first-time winner of a singles title in the Open era. He has since won two more titles. Pushing Nadal as he did – in points if not in sets – this was no insignificant night on the court, but the Spaniard was simply too powerful for him.

Nadal stood, shirt off, and respectfully applauded his opponent as he walked from the court at match’s end.

Nadal’s time off the court with injuries might have meant he would be the one to tire but it proved that he on the contrary relished getting run in his legs and appeared fresher the longer the game went.

He lost here to Roger Federer in a five-set final last year. He would not lose here twice in a row.

Nadal will now face Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer in the next round and potentially n John Millman in the third round after the n upset Croatia’s Borna Cilic in the first round. Millman has a difficult second round opponent in Damir Dzumhur, the 28th seed from Bosnia-Herzegovina.