After his impressive debut at the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal returns to the courts in Melbourne for his second round match on Wednesday. Coming into the first Grand Slam of 2015, Nadal, hampered by wrist and back injuries as well as appendicitis, had played just eight matches, winning only four, since last year’s Wimbledon. But he put those problems aside to kick off his challenge Down Under, beating veteran Mikhail Youzhny in three comfortable sets in his opening round. And he will be looking for a similarly strong performance when taking on American journeyman Tim Smyczek.
Speaking before the event, the third seed suggested his expectations were low to make a major impact, particularly after losing his only competitive match of 2015 to German qualifier Michael Berrer in Qatar. And after dismissing Youzhny, the 14-time Grand Slam winner stressed that his start to this Grand Slam was always going to be more significant than usual.
“It’s a very positive result for me,” he said. “A very good start. Very important. Always before the first match you always have the doubts, especially in the situation in which I’m arriving here. Every match is very important for me today. It was a comfortable victory that gives me some confidence.”
The manner of Nadal’s victory, for the loss of just seven games and with his trademark forehand working well, has already raised expectations at a tournament he won in 2009 and where he lost in the final 12 months ago. The Spaniard, though, continues to take things slowly.
“Today it’s very hard to speak about having chances of anything,” he said. “I’ve had one match. That's better than two days ago. But I need more to feel that I am ready for something very important here. So it’s not the right moment to talk about that. It's the moment to really give to this victory the right value. That's very important for me. And try to be ready for after tomorrow.”
Nadal has never before met Smyczek, who beat Australian wild card Luke Saville in the first round. While he is more battle-hardened having come through qualifying, It would be a major surprise were the world No. 112 to provide Nadal with a stern test. Instead that may not come until round three when Lukas Rosol, the man who famously knocked Nadal out of Wimbledon in 2012, is likely to be his opponent.
Also expected to come through with something to spare from his Australian Open second round encounter on Wednesday is men’s second seed Roger Federer. Fresh from his 1,000th career win to take the title in Brisbane, Federer cruised through the first two sets of his opening-round win against Yen-Hsun Lu before being given a sterner examination in the third set.
“I thought I was playing very well through the first couple of sets,” Federer said after his straight-sets win. “Like you said, I think I was serving very well. I was holding my service games very comfortably. It became a very interesting third set -- gave me, I think, a lot of information. Instead of sort of just steamrolling through him he really made it tough for me.”
The Swiss legend, seeking an 18th Grand Slam title, will take on Italian Simone Bolleli. The 29-year-old, ranked No. 48, has never previously gone beyond the second round in Melbourne and has failed to even take a set off of Federer in their three previous encounters.
Match info: Federer takes on Bolleli in the third and final match of the day session on Rod Laver Arena, with Nadal’s second-round contest against Smyczek set for the first match of the evening session, at 3 a.m. EST.
TV channel: ESPN2
Live stream: ESPN3, Watch ESPN