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Nadal rolls into round three but warns best still to come

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Rafael Nadal rumbled into the third round of the Australian Open yesterday and warned that the best was yet to come after a troubled year with injury.

The Spanish legend needed five match points before decisively putting away tenacious qualifier Yannick Hanfmann to ramp up his march towards a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title.

The world number five executed a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over the 126th-ranked Hanfmann in two hours 42 minutes under a hot sun on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal, who had his 2021 season end in August because of a foot injury and then contracted COVID-19 in December, told reporters: “I said before the tournament things are not going to be perfect.

“But every day I spend on court, the chances to play better are higher.

“I think I am doing things well. Things that I can improve I have to improve. I want to keep going in the tournament.

Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand return to Yannick Hanfmann of Germany. PHOTO: AP

“After two matches now is the moment to make a step forward,” warned Nadal, who has played just 13 tournaments in the past two seasons because of injury.

His 5-0 record in 2022 is a strong start, but he is yet to face a top-60 player in the new year.

That will change in his next match, against Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov, who ousted 63rd-ranked Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi in straight sets.

Nadal, who turns 36 this year and is one of the best men’s players of all time, said he had achieved more than he had ever dreamed in his tennis career.

“I was able to spend almost 20 fantastic years on the tour. When you get older, the watch never stops. You need to accept that. But it’s all good with me with that.”

Nadal, the only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Novak Djokovic’s deportation on the eve of the tournament, is vying with Djokovic and Roger Federer to reach a record 21st Slam crown.

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