How COVID-19 knocked Rafael Nadal for six

Rafael Nadal has blasted his way into the Australian Open second round in Melbourne.
Rafael Nadal has blasted his way into the Australian Open second round in Melbourne.

Rafael Nadal has revealed how a stoush with COVID-19 left him "physically destroyed" less than a month out from the Australian Open.

But wasting no time underlining his Open title credentials, Nadal displayed no lingering effects in a commanding first-round win at Melbourne Park on Monday.

Pounding winners from all angles of the court, the former world No.1 looked lethal in a 6-1 6-4 6-2 demolition of American Marcos Giron on Rod Laver Arena.

But the 35-year-old admitted that recovering from the coronavirus, which he picked up at Christmas after playing an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, was doubly tough after six months out last year with a debilitating foot injury.

"Four days in bed and three or four more days destroyed physically," Nadal said.

"I am happy that if you told me one month ago that I would be in this position, I would have signed the paper.

"It's been a very challenging few months. Not only the six months obviously of being outside of competition but since the first lockdown in 2020.

"If you remember in 2020 I only played here and Acapulco, then I just played in Rome, Roland Garros, Paris and London. Six events.

"In 2021, I played just here and then was clay, Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros. Washington, yeah. Another six events.

"Twelve events in two years are not many. If we add that I was not able to practice very often, too, it's a really tough one, no?

"Honestly, it's been very tough moments and there are still doubts but here I am and I can't be happier to be back in this amazing stadium. It's fantastic."

The dramatic deportation of world No.1 and nine-times champion Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer's injury-enforced absence has left Nadal as the only player with the chance to snare a record 21st men's grand slam singles crown this month.

And the great Spaniard needed only one hour and 48 minutes to confirm he's back to close his best.

As well as clubbing 34 clean winners, Nadal broke Giron five times and offered up only two break points on his own serve all match.

The victory came after Nadal captured his 89th career title in Adelaide this month in a triumphant return and set up a clash on Wednesday with German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, a surprise straight-sets winner over resurgent Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Australian Associated Press