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PRINT EDITION
Nadal returns to his sleeveless roots - and pain-free play
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Spaniard rediscovers his championship form in first-round victory at Australian Open
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By JUSTIN BERGMAN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
  
  

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 – Page B14

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA -- If Rafael Nadal gave the Australian Open a throwback feel last year with his straight-out-of-themid-2000s final against Roger Federer, he's completed the retro effect this year with a return to his sartorial roots - a sleeveless T-shirt.

Matching the muscle-exposing Nike tank top with neon pink shorts, wristbands and headband, Nadal also found his championship form again in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 rout of 37-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos in the first round at Melbourne Park.

The top-ranked Spaniard, who made a splash as a teenager with his trademark sleeveless shirts and knee-length pirate pants, came into this year's Australian Open with questions about his health and readiness to compete following a taxing season that saw him capture two Grand Slams and return to No. 1.

Nadal had been forced to withdraw from the ATP Finals in November due to a lingering right-knee injury, and when the pain persisted, he also pulled out of a season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi and his first tournament in Brisbane.

With only a few exhibition matches last week to test his form, Nadal had doubts he'd be ready to go in time for the first major of the year. But a dominant performance against Estrella Burgos - he had 28 winners and saved five of six break points he faced - left him feeling positive about his start in Melbourne.

"If I don't feel myself ready, I will not be here. So I am happy to be here, happy that I'm on court again," he said.

With several top seeds falling on the women's side, including 2017 Australian Open finalist Venus Williams and U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, the men's draw was largely spared similar upsets.

Third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov advanced with a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 win over qualifier Dennis Novak, while No. 6 Marin Cilic topped Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (5) and local favourite Nick Kyrgios looked sharp in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Rogerio Dutra Silva.

"Obviously I know I'm hitting the ball well," Kyrgios said. "But to go out there in front of the crowd again, just trying to play well, I was a bit nervous going out there. [I'm] happy to get through."

No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 23 Gilles Muller, No. 24 Diego Schwartzman, No. 28 Damir Dzumhur, No. 30 Andrei Rublev and No. 31 Pablo Cuevas also advanced.

No. 8 Jack Sock, No. 11 Kevin Anderson and No. 16 John Isner were among the losers.


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