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Australian Open: Nadal wins after a long layoff; Stephens and Sharapova advance

Rafael Nadal wasn’t about to let another Australian wild-card entry beat him at a Grand Slam tournament.

The left-handed Spaniard beat No. 238th-ranked James Duckworth of Australia 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 on Monday in a first-round men’s match of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

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It was Nadal’s 15th victory in 17 matches against wild cards at Grand Slam events. The 17-time major winner had not played since retiring from his semifinal match at the U.S. Open because of a knee injury. He then had ankle surgery.

“Not easy to come back after a lot of months of competition, especially against a player playing super aggressive every shot,” Nadal said.

Nadal’s defeats to wild-card entrants at a major tournament were against American James Blake in the third round of the 2005 U.S. Open and Australian Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2014.

Nadal, wearing a sleeveless top, did an extended left-arm celebratory pump after breaking Duckworth’s serve after two cross-court stunners to lead 4-2 in the third set. Nadal broke Duckworth in the final game.

John Isner, who hit more aces than his opponent, delivered more total winners and finished with more overall points, failed to beat an American foe at a Grand Slam tournament yet again, and now the highest-ranked man from the U.S. is gone from the Australian Open.

Reilly Opelka, ranked just 97th, earned his first victory in a main-draw match at a major by edging Isner in four tiebreakers 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5).

In women’s singles, fifth-seeded Sloane Stephens ended at three a streak of first-round losses at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over fellow American Taylor Townsend.

“It’s always tough playing against a fellow compatriot,” Stephens said.

Stephens lost in the first round of the Open in 2015, 2016 and 2018. She had foot surgery and didn’t participate in 2017. Townsend has lost all three first-round matches she’s played here.

Other Americans who advanced included Sachia Vickery, who defeated Ysaline Bonaventure 2-6, 6-4, 6-4; and Danielle Rose Collins, who upset 14th-seeded Julia Goerges 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, and Amanda Anisimova, who beat Monica Niculescu 7-6 (3), 6-4.

No. 2-seeded Angelique Kerber cruised past Polona Hercog in straight sets and former Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, who is seeded 30th, needed 63 minutes for a 6-0, 6-0 win over Harriet Dart.

Asked whether she felt sorry for her 22-year-old opponent, Sharapova, who lost in the first round at Wimbledon last year, said, “There’s no time for that when you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam.”

Fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson picked up his first victory in Melbourne since 2015 by defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.

Third-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, the defending women’s champion, was scheduled to play a night match, as were men’s No. 3 seed Roger Federer and sixth-seeded Marin Cilic.

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