Three-time Acapulco champ improves to 11-0 on the season
Rafael Nadal entered the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC with low expectations. Then again, he said the same ahead of the Australian Open.
In his first action since his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title, the Acapulco fourth seed picked up where he left off with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Denis Kudla on Tuesday. Nadal was in command throughout on the Mexican hard court and showed few signs of rust after three weeks out of competition.
With the win, he matches his best start to an ATP Tour season at 11-0. Nadal also won 11 straight matches to start the 2014 season, before losing to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final.
“It has been a positive match. I think I started playing well, a good victory in straight sets. That’s always very positive for the confidence,” he said post-match. “I think I played a very solid match for the first day. Of course there are a couple of things that I can do better, but in general terms, I played well so I can’t complain at all.”
Solid if not spectacular, Nadal displayed his typical baseline dominance as he eased into the match and the tournament, showing patience in the rallies and taking the offensive when chances came.
He dropped just four points on serve in the match and spent the bulk of it in cruise control after early breaks in both sets soothed any nerves.
Two flashes of brilliance early in set two delighted the crowd, though Kudla managed to hold on to his opening service game. A roped forehand return winner was followed by an inside-out line-clipper to conclude a classic Nadal transition from defence to attack.
But Kudla could not hold on much longer against the steady assault off the Spaniard’s racquet. After erasing the slightest of openings at 0-1, 15/30, Nadal did not drop another point on serve, winning five straight games as he moved through the gears.
Another forehand winner, his 16th of the match off that wing, sealed victory in one hour, 13 minutes.
In addition to matching his personal-best start to a season, Nadal also extends his Acapulco win streak to six matches following his title run in 2020. Now 21-2 lifetime at the event, Nadal also triumphed in 2005 and 2013, with the latter being the tournament’s last year on clay. All 21 of his wins have come in straight sets.
Nadal will next face lucky loser Stefan Kozlov, his Monday practice partner. The American had an adventure of a first-round win against Grigor Dimitrov, stopping a practice set with Nadal upon receiving late word that he had a place in the main draw.
“It would be amazing, it would be a great honour for me,” Kozlov said of a potential second-round encounter with Nadal. “I think he’s a fantastic person, and I have great respect for him. I’ll really enjoy it, definitely.”
Soon after Nadal sealed victory, Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie extended a win streak of his own to advance on Tuesday night. Fresh off his Delray Beach title, the Acapulco sixth seed made it five wins (and seven sets) on the trot with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Germany’s Daniel Altmaier.
Norrie twice came back from a break down in an eventful opening set, breaking at love to stop his opponent from serving out the frame at 5-4. That ended a run of three games against serve and started the World No. 12’s ascent in the match. Norrie never trailed in the tie-break and never trailed in the second set thanks to an immediate break of serve.
He’ll face John Isner next in the second round, after the American’s 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(3) win over wild card Fernando Verdasco on Monday.