Men’s tennis has mainly focused its attention this week on Sydney and the ATP Cup and, more recently, has been distracted by Novak Djokovic’s struggle to get past the Australian Border Force who have rejected his visa and, pending a court appeal by the Serb, faces deportation next week.
“I'm super happy to be back playing competitively and it's difficult to imagine a better place than Australia to return, Rafa Nadal
In the background, the ATP Tour have been running two 250 level events in Melbourne and Adelaide to provide players not involved in the ATP Cup, with opportunities to prepare for the Australian Open which starts on January 17.
The main attraction at the Melbourne Summer Set event is Rafa Nadal who leads the field with Reilly Opelka seeded second and Grigor Dimitrov 3.
Fourth seeded David Goffin crashed out in his opening round to Slovakia’s Alex Molcan 7-5 6-3 who in turn was swept aside by the Finn Emil Ruusuvuori 6-2 6-1 in the quarter-finals who is rewarded with a meeting with the Spanish icon.
Nadal, playing his first tournament on the tour since August where he aggravated a left foot injury which looks to have been cleared successfully as he opened his preparations for the Australian Open with a positive start, defeating Ricardos Berankis 6-2 7-5 and then receiving a walkover from Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor, who pulled out with a foot injury.
“I’m super happy to be back playing competitively and it’s difficult to imagine a better place than Australia to return,” Nadal said following his victory.
“It’s only my first match after a while and I’ve been going through difficult moments in the last year-and-a-half. But in general terms I’m happy and it’s important to start with a win.”
Nadal, who pulled out of Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and the U.S. Open in 2021, only returned to action last month in an Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament where he lost to Andy Murray.
Having decided not to play the ATP Cup the 35-year-old Mallorcan then tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
The big serving American giant Opelka was expected to give Nadal problems in the final but he just failed to get past his compatriot, qualifier Maxime Cressy who held his own in the serving department to go through4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(9) in round two.
Dimitrov also found himself struggling but eventually got past Facundo Bagnis of Argentina, 5-7 7-6(3) 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals and then the Dutchman Boltic Van De Zandschulp 6-7(5) 6-0 7-5 to make the last four where he will face Cressy for a place in the final.
Over in Adelaide the top seeded Gael Monfils and Marin Cillic, seeded three, were the first to reach the semi-finals of the Adelaide International 1 event and both look in good form.
Monfils overcame sixth-seeded American Tommy Paul 6-4 6-1 in 69 minutes as the Frenchman continued his bid for an 11th ATP Tour title.
“It was a tough one,” said Monfils. “I had a great start and he broke me back. I think I was rushing a little bit on my first serve, and… [I needed] a little bit more timing on my first serve to have free points. Then it was just a battle. [I] felt great.”
In the bottom half Cilic knocked out Laslo Djere 6-3 6-2 in 68-minutes commenting after his victory: “The match was very solid from start to finish.”
He will face the second seeded Karen Khachanov, the big Russian who remains on track for a final meeting with Monfils.