Omens look good for dominant Nadal

 - Simon Cambers

Roland Garros champion starts in style with easy win as rivals fall

Rafael Nadal wawing to the crowd after his first round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

On each of the three times that Rafael Nadal has gone on to win the US Open, he has opened his title bid with a confident straight-sets win. On Tuesday night, the world No 2 did the first part with another dominant display, crushing Australia’s John Millman 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Millman, ranked 60, caused the shock of last year’s event when he upset Roger Federer in the fourth round on what was one of the hottest ever days in US Open history. On Tuesday, with temperatures at a much more pleasant level, it was Nadal who brought the heat himself with a stunning display.

Serving well and slamming groundstrokes on both sides, Nadal never gave the Australian a sniff, no feeling that he might have even half a chance to make a fight of it. Nadal broke for 3-1 in the first set, twice in the second and twice more in the third to take his place in the second round in commanding fashion.

Rafael Nadal and John Millman at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

A break at home in Mallorca

“It was 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 but there were lots of long games and lots of tough points,” said Nadal, who was dressed in a black, sleeveless top, with purple headband and sweatbands.

“His movement is great, he showed last year what he’s able to do when he’s playing well. I came on court with a lot of respect, I think, and I played a solid match, happy with the first one. Always the first match, everything is a little bit new, even if I have played here many times. I played a good match, my serve worked very well tonight, a few more mistakes than usual on the forehand but in general, I’m happy.”

Having followed up his record 12th Roland Garros title by reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon, Nadal took a break, spending much of it on his new boat at home in Mallorca.

“I'm very happy to have Andy Murray there"

The rest served him well as the Spaniard returned to the Tour in Montreal earlier this month and duly won the Rogers Cup, the perfect warm-up for New York. As he maintained his record of never having lost a first-round match at the US Open, Nadal looked confident and physically, as strong as ever. If he continues this form, he will have to wait for a bit more time on his boat.

“This week there is a Challenger event in Mallorca and I’m very happy to have Andy Murray there,” he said, referring to the former world No 1 who is using the event to regain form in singles after hip surgery earlier this year. “It’s great news for us of course but also for him to be back on Tour, playing singles again, after a lot of problems.

“I texted him a couple of days ago, I gave him the number of one of my best friends and I offered him the boat if he wants to go out. He has been there a couple of times and he knows that with one text, I will help him in any way I can.”

Trademark forehand

Nadal loves nothing more than to spend time on the water but for the next fortnight he is focused only on Flushing Meadows, where he won the title in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

Last year, he looked good only but three tough matches took a lot out of him before he eventually pulled out in his semi-final against Juan Martin Del Potro. This time, he wants to keep the matches short and as he finished the match with a trademark forehand up the line, he will have been delighted to get it done in straight sets.

What could also help Nadal’s hopes here this fortnight is his draw. Already apart from both No 1 seed Novak Djokovic and No 3 Roger Federer, four of the seeds in his half went out on Tuesday, with Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov and Roberto Bautista Agut all going out in round one.

"Positive feelings"

“Tsitsipas had a very tough first round (against Russian Andrey Rublev),” Nadal said. “Of course, Karen (losing, to Vasek Pospisil) is a surprise. I think Thiem had been very sick for the last 10 days. I feel very sorry for him. And Roberto (who lost to Mikhail Kukushkin), was a surprise. Honestly, I'm very sad for him.”

Rafael Nadal looking ahead during his first round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

There is danger everywhere, though, and next up for Nadal, though, is another Australian, Thanasi Kokkinakis, who beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus to reach round two, only his fifth grand slam victory after several injury problems over the past few years.

“He's young, he has a big forehand, big serve,” Nadal said. “He's a dangerous opponent, of course. I need to go on court and to play well. If not, will be a very difficult match.

“I think I had more or less positive feelings tonight. I need to keep improving every single day. Winning with that result allow me more to have a good practice. I hope to be ready for after tomorrow knowing it is a tough challenge, Thanasi in the second round.”