Rafael Nadal wins Acapulco opener to equal best career start

The 35-year-old Spanish southpaw beat lucky American loser Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2 to book a hard-court date with American Stefan Kozlov in the round of 16.

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a ball during a match against American Denis Kudla at the Mexican Open tennis tournament in Acapulco, Mexico on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Rafael Nadal matched his best career start to a season on the ATP Tour with a win on Tuesday in his first match since winning the Australian Open title, reaching the second round of the Mexican Open .

The 35-year-old Spanish southpaw beat lucky American loser Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2 to book a hard-court date with American Stefan Kozlov in the round of 16.

“It was a positive start, a good win in straight sets. It’s always very positive for confidence,” Nadal said.

“I played a very solid game, a good effort today. Of course there are a few things I can do better, but in general terms I played well so I can’t complain at all. .”

The win took Nadal to 11-0 this year, matching his best career start of any season. He also won 11 straight matches to start the 2014 campaign before losing to Swiss Stan Wawrinka in an Australian Open final.

Nadal won his men’s record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open last month, breaking the career record of 20 Grand Slam crowns he shared with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

World number five Nadal beat 100th-ranked Kudla in game four for a 3-1 lead and held on from there to win the opening set of their first career encounter.

When Kudla sent a long forehand to give up the first break of the second set, Nadal took a 2-1 lead and held at 3-1.

Nadal broke again for a 4-1 advantage and held twice more, claiming victory with a forehand winner.

Nadal, seeded fourth, fired eight aces and won 36 of 40 points on his serve in the dominant outing.

The Spaniard is aiming for his 91st career ATP title and third of the year, having also won a Slam tune-up tournament in Melbourne.

Medvedev chases No. 1

Mexican Open Rafael Nadal wins Acapulco opener to tie best career start

Daniil Medvedev of Russia returns a ball during a match against Benoit Paire of France at the Mexican Open tennis tournament in Acapulco, Mexico on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Russian top seed Daniil Medvedev, the defending US Open champion whom Nadal overtook in five sets in the Australian Open final, started his world ranking run with a 6-3 win, 6-4 over Frenchman Benoit Paire.

“It’s still not easy to come back after a bit of rest and some time out of competition,” Medvedev said. “I felt like my feelings weren’t the best today, but I managed to fight to the end against a very tough opponent and I’m glad I managed to win.”

If Medvedev wins the Acapulco title, he is guaranteed to overtake Djokovic at the top of the standings, no matter how the Serbian star performs this week in Dubai.

“If Novak wouldn’t play then maybe it would be a bit more on my mind because it would be just me depending on what I can do,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev would become the 27th player to reach world number one and only the third Russian, joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1999) and Marat Safin (2000-01).

The last player apart from Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Briton Andy Murray to top the rankings was American Andy Roddick in February 2004.

Medvedev will then face the Spaniard Pablo Andujar, 68th.

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