Nadal shows true touch of a champion after burning fingers

Freak injury and lack of form fail to stop Spaniard advancing to second round in signature battling style

Flushing Meadows

There is probably nobody in the modern game who can improve over the course of a Grand Slam tournament better than Rafael Nadal. Twelve months ago the Spaniard arrived here at the US Open concerned by his form and with his serve looking particularly vulnerable. A fortnight later, after coach Toni Nadal had suggested a minor change to his nephew's serve, he was on his way to his third Grand Slam title of the year, serving better than he had ever done before.

The defending champion arrived here last week in arguably even worse shape than last year. Not only had he played below par in the summer's two Masters Series tournaments but he was also suffering physically. The foot injury that troubled him at Wimbledon was still a problem and he was nursing burns to his fingers suffered in a restaurant.

It remains to be seen whether the foot injury in particular will be a problem for Nadal – he said his fingers were "much better" – but the French Open champion got his tournament under way with a typically gutsy 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 victory over Kazakhstan's Andrey Golubev on Tuesday night. Nadal saved seven set points in the second set and recovered from two breaks down in the third to earn a second-round meeting with France's Nicolas Mahut.

Nadal admitted afterwards that he had felt nervous going into his first match. "I think I didn't play that bad," he said. "The mental part was positive tonight. The tennis for sure can improve. I have to play a little bit more inside the court, but I am confident I can do it."

He added: "I didn't play a lot this summer. I have had a fantastic week of practice here. I was practising really well, much better than in the previous tournaments. It's normal to start like this, with doubts, with more nerves. You have to find your confidence. Confidence comes from spending hours on court, competing better, winning matches."

Nadal said he was happy with the way he had been hitting the ball but felt that he needed to be more positive on his backhand. "Hopefully for the next match I will do it much better," he said. "People forget a lot of things, but last year my first match was really bad. That's the truth. Even if I didn't lose my serve, I played badly against a similar opponent [Teymuraz Gabashvili] to today's.

"He [Golubev] played very fast. It was a different situation, but it's very difficult to start one tournament playing very well from the beginning. I am not saying that I will play fantastic in the next days, but I am confident that I can do it better."

Novak Djokovic came through his first-round match with considerably less difficulty after his opponent, Conor Niland, retired when trailing 6-0, 5-1. Niland had been suffering from food poisoning after a meal out in what he described as a "fancy restaurant" in Manhattan on Sunday night.

It was a stroke of desperately bad luck for the first Irishman to play here in the Open era. Niland, 29, had never met an opponent ranked in the world's top 50 before and was playing in only his second Grand Slam tournament, having also qualified for Wimbledon this summer.

"For the last couple of days I've been cursing my luck," the world No 197 said after his retirement. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of a match and to not be able to go out and show what I can do and be just normal and healthy out there is really frustrating. I felt like I really wanted to start in case a miracle happened and I felt good out there. I thought maybe I could bluff my way through, but I just found out you can't do that against the No 1 in the world."

After the relentless demands of his extraordinary season, Djokovic was happy to be detained on court for only 44 minutes. The world No 1, who has won nine titles this year and lost only twice, was playing his 60th match of the campaign. As a comparison, Andy Murray had played only 44 matches going into his opening match last night against India's Somdev Devvarman.

Djokovic, who reported no pain in the injured shoulder that forced him to retire from his recent Cincinnati Masters final against Murray, said: "I'm not really tired because I switched to the mode of Grand Slam focus. I'm trying to prepare well, and be 100 per cent mentally and physically fit for the matches that are about to come here.

"Today was a great opening performance. I know it has been a long year, but it's not the first time. I've played many matches in the past, as well, but you've got to adjust to it. I think right now I'm doing a quite good job to stay fit."

Robin Soderling withdrew from the tournament with illness shortly before he was due to play his first-round match against the Irishman Louk Sorensen. The world No 6 was replaced by a lucky loser, Brazil's Rogerio Dutra Da Silva.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders