World No.1 Nadal blasts past Dellien

  • David Cox

Rafael Nadal showed just why he’s one of the most ruthless competitors on tour, producing a clinical performance to see off the brave challenge of Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2 6-3 6-0 in the opening round of the Australian Open on Tuesday afternoon.

Dellien, the first Bolivian ever to compete at the Australian Open, fought hard, and the match was far closer than the scoreline might suggest. But while Nadal later admitted he was inspired by Dellien’s story, he was in no mood to be charitable as the temperatures picked up, slowly but surely breaking his opponent’s heart and will over the course of the two-hour contest.

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Nine years ago Dellien had been Nadal’s practice partner as a wide-eyed 17-year-old at the 2011 French Open. Now nearly a decade later, he was experiencing first-hand the Spaniard’s ruthless ability to dispatch lower-ranked opponents in the opening rounds of a Grand Slam.

Dellien’s opening service game featured three deuces before Nadal inevitably broke through, merely setting the tone for what was to follow. While the world No.73 was visibly competitive in the rallies, clipping the lines with some vicious topspin forehands, like so many before him, he had no answer to the remorseless intensity of the 19-time Grand Slam champion.

Ahead of the clash, Dellien spoke of how the match was being treating as akin to a football World Cup final back in his homeland, but after five games and 38 minutes, the Bolivian was still yet to get on the scoreboard and looked in danger of a humiliation. While his toil was eventually rewarded, the match never looked like being anything other than a comfortable win for the Spaniard.

“He’s a fighter, he has a great story behind him,” said Nadal. 

“Happy for him that he’s playing at a very high level. Positive start for me here. What you want in the first round is just to win, and if it’s in straight sets better.”

Hugo Dellien found it tough against the world No.1

Such has been the short turnaround between seasons for Nadal, after helping Spain win the Davis Cup at the end of November before being back in action in Abu Dhabi just a few weeks later, he admitted he has had little time to work on and add new things to his game ahead of 2020. 

“I did some treatment at the end of the season, stay four days at home, and work again," said Nadal. 

“Sometimes, you know, like before 2017 season I had two months and a half to work because I didn't play after Shanghai. When you have this time to work on specific things, then you can expect new things or you can expect some improvements.”

While Nadal still has a fine record in Australia, having reached the final on five occasions, it remains his least successful Slam with his only victory coming back in 2009.

The Spaniard said it is hard to explain just why he has failed to lift the trophy on more occasions in Melbourne, having prevailed on four occasions on the hard courts of the US Open.

"I don't know," he said. 

"I have been break up twice in the fifth set and I lost. Then other times, like 2018, I get injured against Cilic. I went through a couple of things, more than in New York honestly. But I don't know. Maybe the conditions are better for me in New York than here. That's the only reason that I can find."