AO 2023: Nadal and Swiatek find their feet

The 'Happy Slam' has arrived with the stars of the show launching into action at Melbourne Park.

Rafael Nadal Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The sun beating down across the pristine grounds at Melbourne Park signalled it's time for Grand Slam tennis to shine again.

The 2023 Australian Open sprung into life on Monday with a host of impressive performances. Here are a collection of key storylines from Day 1.

Rafa up and running

Back on the very court he defied logic to lift his 21st Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal returned to Rod Laver Arena to outlast Next Gen Brit Jack Draper.

The defending champion found the answers 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 as the physical exertions caught up on the Brit.

"Last year was one of the most emotional of my tennis career,” stated the world No.2 “We need to keep working and I'm super happy to be back in Australia. The last couple of months haven't been easy for me so hopefully this victory will help me.

"If we put in perspective all the situations I went through in the last six months, it is a very positive start. Draper is young, he has the power and I think he has a great future." 

A 1068th career win enabled Nadal to equal Ivan Lendl on the third-most men’s victories in the Open Era.

In doing so, Nadal advances to meet American Mackenzie McDonald, who required five sets to navigate past compatriot Brandon Nakashima.

Swiatek nullifies dangerous Niemeier

Cast your mind back to the US Open and Iga Swiatek had her back against the wall a set and a break down to Jule Niemeier.

The world No.1 prevailed in three sets in New York, this time facing the German in Melbourne, Swiatek erased a 5-3 second set deficit to pass a stern test to escape 6-4, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.

Iga Swiatek Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

"Pretty amazing. Despite being pretty nervous, I really enjoyed it," said Swiatek, with world No.84 Camilia Osorio up next.

"I just wanted to focus on myself, because I know Jule can serve amazing. At US Open she was using the fast conditions and again she was really putting pressure on me.

"So I didn't want to think about that, but what I could do to push her back. I'm really happy that I kept this attitude and got through this round. An opponent like Jule is always tricky."

Devastated Kyrgios forced to the sidelines

Unfortunately for fans of the green and gold, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios had to withdraw from his home major. The 19th seed cited a knee injury of a tear in his lateral meniscus and a cyst.

"It's obviously been pretty brutal before one of the most important tournaments of my career," Kyrgios told reporters. "It hasn't been easy at all.

“I've worked so hard, I was ranked outside 100 a year ago… last two Grand Slams I've played, I've made a final of Wimbledon and quarter-final at the US Open. We felt we had a genuine chance of winning an event, winning a Grand Slam.”

Team USA on the charge

No.3 seed Jessica Pegula laid down her title credentials with a rapid 6-0, 6-1 dismissal of Jaqueline Cristian in just 59 minutes of flawless tennis.

Her Roland-Garros doubles partner Coco Gauff also launched into the second round with 6-1, 6-4 on the scoreboard with experienced Czech Katerina Siniakova.

Gauff will meet 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu at the second hurdle. Clear the diary for that one!

“I'm really looking forward to this match. I'm very up for it. Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she's playing well,” said the British star.

“I think we're both good, young players, we're both coming through, part of the next generation of tennis really. I'm looking forward to the occasion.”

Coco Gauff Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

History books for Chinese protégé

The youngest player in the men’s singles draw sparkled on his Grand Slam debut.

17-year-old Shang Juncheng notched up a four-sets triumph over Oscar Otte to become the first Chinese man in the Open Era to record an Australian Open win.

"I'd say in some way, I'm a little surprised that it came this fast," said Shang.

"But at the same time, I think it's all the hard work from my team and myself that paid off. I'm just nothing else but excited about what's coming next."

The world No.194’s reward is a level-up contest with 16th seed Frances Tiafoe.

Around the grounds

Notable seeds such as two-time runner-up Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner, Maria Sakkari and Petra Kvitova all advanced unscathed in straight sets.

In the battle of the former champions, 2012-13 winner Victoria Azarenka edged past Sofia Kenin 6-4, 7-6(3).

However, 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka fell in five sets over the net from Slovakian Alex Molcan.

Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk sent No.28 seed Amanda Anisimova out 6-3, 6-4, whilst Czech charge Jiri Lehecka turned heads with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win facing Croatia’s 21st seed Borna Coric.

South African Lloyd Harris inched past No.17 seed Lorenzo Musetti in a fifth set match tie-break, whilst No.6 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime needed four sets to overhaul his fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

There was a plethora of five-set thrillers, with home wildcards Rinky Hijikata and John Millman going the distance to secure their second round tickets.