Rafael Nadal was made to sweat without ever looking in serious danger as the world No. 1 marked his Japan Open debut with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Santiago Giraldo on Tuesday.
Nadal came into the Tokyo tournament looking to bounce back from a semifinal exit at the Thailand Open last weekend, and a match against world No. 63 Giraldo — with no career titles to his name — looked like the perfect opportunity.
But the Colombian proved a tough nut to crack in a spirited showing at Ariake Colosseum, succumbing only to one break in each set over 1 hour, 49 minutes as Nadal struggled to shake off the effects of his busy schedule.
“Always at the beginning it is not easy, and I was probably a little bit more tired than usual,” Nadal said. “I arrived here only two days ago and I arrived at seven in the morning.
“I am probably a little bit jet-lagged, and everything makes me feel a little bit more tired than usual. I was playing well, but I have to play with more energy for the next match.”
Nadal will play Canadian qualifier Milos Raonic in the second round on Thursday. Andy Roddick also came through his first-round match with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Tatsuma Ito, but Kei Nishikori lost to Serbia’s Viktor Troicki 6-4, 6-2 and Go Soeda fell to No. 5 seed Gael Monfils 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 to leave no Japanese players in the men’s draw.
Defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also crashed out, losing 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 to Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.
All Center Court eyes were firmly fixed on Nadal, however, and the Spaniard gave the crowd a taste of what it came for when he broke his opponent to take a 3-2 lead in the first set.
But Giraldo was in no mood to roll over. The Colombian repeatedly took the lead early in Nadal’s service games, and fell off the pace only when the world No. 1 scored the decisive break for 3-2 in the second set.
“It wasn’t part of my strategy for sure,” Nadal said. “I started a few games love-30, but he played well. He was playing very aggressive.
“I was a little bit tired today and for that reason I wasn’t totally focused on all the points. Always the first point of every game is very important, and today I started too many games playing bad points. That’s something that I really need to change for the next game.”
Nishikori, who returned from injury in February after six months out of the game, seized the initiative with an early break against world No. 54 Troicki, only to lose his grip when the Serbian came through a long deuce battle to break back to 4-4.
Nishikori then dumped a string of shots into the net to hand his opponent the first set, and fell behind in the second when a double fault on break point gave Troicki a 4-2 lead. Troicki went on to close out the match with little fuss, leaving Nishikori cursing his ring-rustiness.
“I haven’t been able to practice much, and that is one of my excuses,” the 20-year-old said. “I feel physically fit and I feel like I’m getting stronger, but I need to work on my serves and my forehand.
“My serves were failing me. I felt like I was hitting them OK, but the placement was off. I also might have played it too safe today. I got an early lead, thought about winning, and as a result I became too defensive.”
Roddick was also feeling his way into action in his first tournament since last month’s U.S. Open, but the No. 2 seed came through his match with Ito with flying colors.
“There were some good things and some things that were a little inconsistent, but it was pretty much what you would expect,” Roddick said. “Since New York I’ve been working on getting back into physical shape, and I feel like I’ve been able to do that.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.