The Tennis Phile

January 18, 2010 7:08 AM


All eyes were glued on Rod Laver Arena tonight as Rafael Nadal began his title defense of the Australian Open when he faced off against low ranked Australian Peter Luczak.  Nadal's corner and his legions of  fans were nervous as to how the former number one would look in his first Slam as a healthy player since last year's Aussie Open.

And indeed, after an 80 minute first set  there seemed much to be concerned about as Nadal got off to a sluggish start as he appeared a step slow and tentative with his groundstrokes.  Pushed to a tiebreaker, Nadal then found his second gear and didn't lose a point in the breaker. From then on, the Man from Mallorca cruised the rest of the way, winning the last two sets in less time than it took for him to finish off the first stanza.

Perhaps most encouraging was Nadal's serve which had tremendous precision, even if it lacked an increase in power (averaging around 108 MPH,  though he was able to hit the mid-120's on his serve. Not to get mired in statistical minutiae, but Nadal is most effective when he can continually hit a couple of serves in the 120's in each service game).

A most pleasing sight was the way Nadal's footwork and speed steadily improved throughout the match - the most discouraging site last season was how his ability to run down balls was considerably weakened. Additionally,  Rafa will look to continue to gain confidence on his backhand side as his brutally effective forehand becomes that much more of a weapon when he strikes his backhand with force. Look for him to step into the court more on both the forehand and backhand side.

***Also today, in one what is not as great a surprise as it would seem, Maria Sharapova made an early exit as her lack of perparation for the event was exposed by Maria Kirilenko***

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