Rafael Nadal wins opening match in Melbourne; Naomi Osaka also advances

Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand during his singles match against Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania at Summer Set tennis tournament ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (Hamish Blair/AP)

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal began fine-tuning his quest for a 21st Grand Slam singles title with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Ricardas Berankis on Thursday in a warm-up tournament ahead of the Australian Open.

Nadal, recovering from the coronavirus, showed no signs of sluggishness on Rod Laver Arena, although he was broken early in the second set and again when he served for the match.

“It’s only the first match after a while. Honestly, I have been going through some difficult, challenging moments the past year-and-a-half,” Nadal said, “but in general terms I am super happy to be back in competition.

“Of course it’s important to start with a victory, (which) gives me the chance to play another time tomorrow, and that’s the main thing at this moment because I didn’t play for such a long time.”

In the women’s event at Melbourne Park, defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka beat Maryna Zanevska 6-1, 6-1, and second-seeded Simona Halep defeated Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Nadal said COVID-19 left him in bed for several days “shaking and tired” and with a fever he said was worse than any other similar illness he had experienced.

“My days had been tough; I was very sick with fever (but) that’s the better way mentally and physically to be ready (to arrive as early as possible) and adapt to the conditions,” he said. “I felt myself good enough and I always wanted to be back on tour and be here.”

Earlier, former French Open champion Iga Swiatek advanced to the Adelaide International quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-2 win over U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez.

The fifth-seeded Swiatek joined top-ranked Ash Barty in the last eight and will play two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who beat Priscilla Hon 6-3, 7-5.

“I felt really confident,” Swiatek said. “And I’m pretty happy that I could finish it really quickly and I didn’t let go of focus.”

Seventh-seeded Elina Rybakina and Shelby Rogers, who beat third-seeded Maria Sakkari, will meet in another quarterfinal match.

The Adelaide and Melbourne tournaments are two of six tune-up events being staged in Australia this week ahead of the season-opening major at Melbourne Park, which starts on Jan. 17.

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