Not many coaches would want to sit courtside and watch their charge battle through a brutal five-hour match but Toni Nadal has no problem reliving his pupil Rafael Nadal’s epic five-set win over Fernando Verdasco in the 2009 Australian Open semi-finals, as long as it spells victory for his nephew.
Spanish duo, Nadal and Verdasco, square off in the Australian Open first round today on Rod Laver Arena in a rematch of their marathon in Melbourne from seven years ago – which was one of the most memorable grand slam clashes in modern times.
“I can sign 6-4 in the fifth and winning? I sign,” Toni said ahead of today’s showdown.
“Winning, always I sign. But I expect a different match (than in 2009). Verdasco is not the same, Rafael in 2009 was No1, now we are No5, I expect a difficult match.
“It’s never easy to play against Verdasco. He was a very good player and still now he has the possibility to be a very good player. It will be difficult for us and I hope it will be difficult for him.”
Nadal has been in search of his best form over the past 12 months and has managed to string together some solid results from the end of last season. He started 2016 by making the final in Doha but was then hammered by Novak Djokovic 6-1, 6-2 to end up with the runner-up trophy in the Qatari capital.
Asked if the heavy defeat in Doha took him by surprise, Toni said: “No, we weren’t surprised. Rafael has played well and sometimes it’s a little the same when Guillermo Vilas played against Bjorn Borg, maybe one was No1 and Vilas was No2 on clay, and normally Borg beat him so easily, because they had a similar game but the other one made every shot a little better.
“And in Doha, Djokovic has played very very very good for me, and our serve wasn’t good enough, our forehand wasn’t good enough, the backhand was good but it wasn’t enough to beat Novak. I don’t know when and where, but we can change a little (to close the gap)…”
Nadal has been trying to implement changes in his game to get back to his grand slam-winning ways and catch up with his fellow ‘Big Four’ rivals. He has been trying to step inside the court and be more aggressive with his forehand.
His uncle/coach explains that while Nadal hasn’t been used to generating good shots from the first hit, having come from a clay-based game that involved long rallies and more tactics, he understands that today’s game is not like that and that adjustments must be made accordingly.
Toni admits making changes to one’s game after capturing 14 grand slams like his nephew is no mean feat.
“It is a very complicated process,” concedes the Mallorcan coach. “He’s been doing so well his whole life doing the same thing. It’s not the same making changes when you haven’t much success compared to Rafael, who has been quite successful in his career.
“It’s like telling the Barcelona players that they have to do something else to find a way… It’s not easy but it has to be done. We have no choice.”
Nadal is 14-2 lifetime against Verdasco, who is a former world No7 but has now slipped to 45. Verdasco beat Nadal in Miami last year.
The Swiss third seed crushed the Georgian 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 in just 72 minutes and will play Ukraine’s Aleksandr Dolgopolov in the second round.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion was in a different class to his 117th-ranked opponent and showcased his full arsenal of shots against the bemused Basilashvili in their first meeting.
“I am very happy. The first round is never easy and I’ve never played against Nikoloz so it was nice opening on centre court in a night session which is always a pressure situation,” Federer said.
“It was a great match and I hope I can keep it up.”
He broke the Georgian eight times in a dominating performance and maintained his record of never having lost in the first round in Melbourne in 17 appearances.
The Swiss great, playing in his 65th consecutive Grand Slam tournament, hit a total of 31 winners and won 91 percent of his first serve points.
In the women’s draw, fifth seed Maria Sharapova crushed Japan’s Nao Hibino in a ruthless first round display as she fired a warning to her rivals in Melbourne.
The Russian, attempting to win her first title at Melbourne Park since 2008, was in blistering form to take the match 6-1, 6-3 in 73 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki didn’t have the same luck, crashing out at the first hurdle and admitting she had no one but herself to blame.
The Dane, who remains one of the most marketable players in tennis despite never winning a major in 35 attempts, tossed away a one-set lead against 76th-ranked Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.
“I would say it’s a pretty s***** start to the season,” Wozniacki told a press conference. “It wasn’t a pretty first set but I got it done and really should have closed it off in two.
“You know, I let her back into the match, and it was basically my own fault that I’m not here as the winner.”
She romped through the first set against Putintseva but as the Kazakh’s confidence grew, Wozniacki struggled to cope with her baseline game and went down 1-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 in 3hrs 12 mins.
In searing heat, the six-time Australian Open champion, who is gunning to equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles, ground down the Italian 6-4, 7-5 in 1hr 45 mins.
Wearing a canary yellow pleated skirt and matching midriff-baring shirt, displaying her pierced navel, Williams was composed but not her usual clinical self during the draining workout.
“It’s great. It was an hour and 45 minutes and I didn’t feel it at all,” she said of her knee, after successfully coming through her first tour-level match since the US Open in September.
“Okay, I haven’t played in a long time, but I have been playing for 30 years, so it’s kind of — I try to focus on that.”
Asked how she rated her game, she credited her serve for seeing her home and gave herself an “A” for effort.
Serena Williams needed 8 break points before she finally broke in the 2nd set, but then she serves for the match at love for a 6-4 7-5 win— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 18, 2016
“I’m just thinking positive. You know, that match is done with. On to the next one. So like I said, A for effort.”
Meanwhile, fellow reigning champion from the men’s draw Novak Djokovic eased past Chung Hyeon in straight sets to kick off his quest for a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title on Monday.
Djokovic beat the 19-year-old South Korean 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in 1hr 55mins in blistering heat on Rod Laver Arena which left him reaching for the ice vests and water.
Despite the high temperarures, the top seed sent out a chilling warning to his rivals as he set out to equal Australian Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian Open crowns.
Djokovic looked in ominous touch for his rivals, sending the 51st-ranked Chung scurrying around the court chasing after his dazzling array of shots.
“It’s an absolute pleasure to come back to Rod Laver Arena, it’s the most successful court in my career and there have been many memorable moments in the matches I’ve played here,” Djokovic said.
“Chung is only 19, he’s tall and he plays well from the back of the court and he has a big future.”