Melbourne | A cramping Draper loses to Nadal in Four.

Rafa Nadal, the world No.2 and top seed at the first major of the season, the Australian Open, was given a thorough test by his first-round opponent, the 21-year-old Brit, Jack Draper who eventually capitulated after four sets to the exceptionally fit Spaniard whilst also suffering from debilitating cramping.

The defending champion was made to work had for the win in the early exchanges, but as the Brit’s game slowly lost its power and speed, Nadal was able to get through without too much difficulty in the end.

Draper was not overawed by the 22-time Grand Slam champion in their first ever meeting as he lost 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 after three hours and 41-minutes, having made Nadal work hard in the opening three sets before falling badly behind in the fourth thanks to cramp.

Nadal struggled behind the second serve and ended the match with 41 winners and 46 unforced errors. He also had to fend off seven out of 11 break points and converted six breaks from the 12 opportunities he raised.

There was little between the pair in the rallies, but the pressure switched to Draper after he lost the first and he responded well with some strong serving which forced the 36-year-old Spaniard back on the defensive who just manged to avoid a bagel second set when he served to stay in the set in the sixth game but couldn’t prevent Draper from levelling the match.

Nadal made a fresh start in the third set and broke Draper at 2-1 following a double fault from the Brit who started to struggle physically but broke back in game seven thanks to a loose forehand from Nadal.

The Spaniard held in the ninth game for 5-4 and grabbed a break in the next to clinch the set and a one set advantage.

They traded breaks at the start of the fourth but Draper was now visible hampered by cramps and attempted to win points quickly but couldn’t make an impact on Nadal who after saving break points in the seventh game, completed his victory with a forehand.

Rafael Nadal shows his delight at winning his first match of the season

Andy Cheung/Getty Images

“Super happy to be back here in Australia one more time. It’s like the 19th season in the professional tour so very excited about this new beginning,” Nadal said during his on court post-match interview.

“It’s a victory I needed. I played against one of the toughest opponents possible in the first round. He’s young, he has the power and I think he has a great future in front of him.”

But to reach his potential, Draper will have to raise his level of fitness if he is to compete with the likes of Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have based their games on physical prowess and stamina.

“Going to this trip in Australia, I was very undercooked, to be honest,” Draper admitted.

“After last year, I was really excited about doing a good pre-season. I had two viral infections so had to be on antibiotics on two occasions. I lost five of those seven weeks.

“I’ve got to be proud of the way I competed in Adelaide (he reached the semi-finals of the ATP event there last week) and the effort I put in there. I think I surprised myself with where I’ve been at.

“Obviously this physical thing is going to take time. It’s going to take patience. But I’m fully aware of that and I’m willing to do everything I can to put myself in a great place moving forward.”

Steps had already been taken to improve that side of his game having hired a fitness coach, Croatian Dejan Vojnovic.

Draper added: “I felt at the beginning of the third that my tennis was right there. I almost felt like I was in control of the match at that point.

“The first set’s always tough. I’ve never been on court with Rafa before. The second set, I sort of calmed down and started playing really well. If I would have carried on that way, who knows?

“I just need to investigate why I’m getting (cramp), but also know that I’ve only just started really with my fitness trainer that I’ve invested in.

“Obviously playing a player like Rafa on Rod Laver, something that I’ll remember for a very long time. A real honour to play against him, someone I’ve idolised growing up.

“To go toe-to-toe with him on a big court like that is special. I think I can take away the fact that my tennis is getting closer and closer.”

Final words from Nadal: “He’s a great player with a lot of potential with a great future, I think. It was a tough, tough match. Full (of) respect for him. (I) wish him well for the future.”

Jack Draper feeling the effects of his cramping

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images



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