Staying competitive for two decades is always challenging in any sport. A couple of selected tennis players have achieved that, chasing victories over 20 years after joining the circuit. Roger Federer leads the field with at least one ATP victory in 24 consecutive seasons between 1998 and 2021! Guillermo Vilas kept the record before the Swiss, achieving one ATP triumph between 1968 and 1989. Richard Gasquet became the third player with an ATP win in 22 consecutive seasons last week en route to his title in Adelaide. Rafael Nadal missed his chances to achieve that at the United Cup at the beginning of the season after losing to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur. Rafa fixed that at the start of the Australian Open, beating the young Briton Jack Draper 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in three hours and 41 minutes. Nadal’s first ATP win came at home in Mallorca in 2002, still at 15!
Twenty-one years later, Rafa is still among the world’s best players, kicking off his Australian Open title defense and standing in the top-2. Draper stayed in touch with Nadal for two hours and 45 minutes, giving his best but losing steam after an early break in the fourth set. Rafa lost serve four times and delivered six breaks that carried him through. The Spaniard did not look good on the court in the second set before bouncing back in the third and fourth to move into the second round. Jack struggled with cramps but refused to surrender, staying on the court until the end of his first Australian Open match. Both players made a strong start, and Jack defended a break point in game eight with a service winner for 4-4.
Rafael Nadal is the fourth player with an ATP win in 22 consecutive seasons.
Nadal forced the youngster’s mistake in the 12th game and created a set point, eager to avoid a tie break. He seized it with a forehand crosscourt winner for 7-5 in 54 minutes and a boost. However, the young gun made a fresh start in the second set, serving well and breaking Nadal in games one and three to open a 4-0 gap. Rafa struggled and faced more break points in game five. He saved them to avoid a potential bagel and get some rhythm. A left-handed Briton held at 15 in game eight to wrap up an impressive set and level the overall score after an hour and 47 minutes.
Nadal broke Draper at 2-1 in the third set following the youngster’s double fault. Jack struggled physically but broke back in game seven thanks to Rafa’s loose forehand. The Spaniard clinched a crucial break at 5-4 after the rival’s backhand error to wrap up the set and open two sets to one advantage. They traded breaks at the start of the fourth set, and Nadal was the only player in the rest of the duel. He delivered three straight return games to forge a 5-1 lead and move closer to the finish line. The Spaniard saved break points in game seven and sealed the deal after the rival’s forehand error to move into the second round.