Asked how he’d cope with a five-set assignment right now, Nadal said: “I don’t know. My back is not perfect, as I said a couple of days ago.
“Every day that I’m able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. That’s the thing now. There is always a chance to improve, and that’s why I’m here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance.
“Today it’s not great. I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That’s what I tried to survive, that condition today. Tomorrow a day off. After tomorrow, another match.”
The bottom half of the men’s draw was bereft of major surprises, all except the early exit of Nadal’s countryman Roberto Bautista Agut, who fell to world No.85 Radu Albot, of Moldova.
That victory sets up an unexpected second round clash between Albot and Australian wildcard Christopher O’Connell, a straight sets winner over German Jan-Lennard Struff.
O’Connell, Alexei Popyrin – a five-set winner on Tuesday – and the country’s highest ranked man, Alex de Minaur are flying the flag for the locals in the bottom half.
Two of the other leading chances on Nadal’s side of the draw, Russians Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, got their campaigns off to a strong start with straight sets wins. The top 10 pair are match-hardened after driving Russia to the ATP Cup title last weekend. Medvedev is riding a 15-match winning streak after claiming the ATP Finals title.
“I’m feeling confident. Winning almost everything in straight sets is important, so I’m feeling confident about myself,” said Medvedev.
“I know that I can do well, but a grand slam is not an easy thing.”
Medvedev won last year’s ATP Finals with wins over Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Dominic Thiem and continued his impressive form at the ATP Cup in Melbourne as Russia put in an unbeaten performance.
His stocks in Melbourne continue to rise after eliminating Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 at Margaret Court Arena. But a question about possible favouritism for the Melbourne title, especially with Djokovic on the other side, was ably answered.
“Yeah, I get asked this question a lot, so if people consider me as a favourite, it’s actually a good job
because I worked all my life to be one of the, let’s say, top players in the world,” Medvedev said.
“I’m happy that I’m part of them right now. But you know, you need to win seven matches. I just won one, so I need to win six more against very strong opponents, all of them, out of five sets.
“That’s 18 sets more you need to win, which is a lot. It’s like nine three-set matches, so I’ll take it step by step.”
Countryman and seventh seed Rublev defeated German world No.102 Yannick Hanfmann, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, off the court on John Cain Arena in one hour and 42 minutes.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age