Rafael Nadal had to dig deep on Monday at the Australian Open to claw through his first-round match against Jack Draper. But for the defending champion it did not matter if it was a straightforward victory or not. A win was a win.

“I needed a victory, so that’s the main thing. Doesn’t matter the way. The most important thing today is a victory against a tough opponent,” Nadal said. “To win against Jack, as I said before the tournament started, has been one of the toughest first rounds possible being seeded. We knew [it is] not going to be perfect, as I said the other day. [It] was not perfect.

“But to win against Jack, I need to do things well. I think I did things well. So satisfied with the victory because that’s give me the chance to play after tomorrow again.”

Entering the tournament, Nadal had lost six of seven matches. Last year he struggled with an abdominal injury.

“Of course, when you break the abdominal twice, [it] takes a while to recover the confidence in the movement. I mean, [it] was difficult for me for a few months to put the ball high and go for the ball,” Nadal said. “When you break the abdominal, you start to protect yourself, putting the ball more to the left, trying to not do the movement, the full movement, with the abdominal.”

Nadal believes through hard work he has found his “normal serve”. But it is not just about one stroke.

“I need to keep improving in all the aspects of my game,” Nadal said. “But I am not playing bad, you know? Just need to hold the positive level for [a] longer time. I am in a moment that I am more up and down. But, as I said, it’s part of the business.”

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In the third set, Nadal appeared to take full control, quickly going up a break with Draper cramping. But instead of rolling from there as expected, the British lefty levelled the set. Nadal knows he will need to clean up those ups and downs.

“That’s the work today. Come back to that winning mood or spirit of saving these key moments,” said Nadal, who will next face Mackenzie McDonald.

The Spaniard later added: “I am ready for the challenge. I’m ready to keep fighting for it. And victory helps, I can’t lie [to] you [about] that. When you win matches, you are more relaxed. You are more confident. You have better chances to resist these moments.”

Before the tournament, Nadal praised Draper. After a tough battle inside Rod Laver Arena, the Spaniard doubled down on his evaluation.

“He’s a great player with a lot of potential, young. A great future in front, I think. So [it] was a tough, tough match. Full respect for him. Wish him well for the future,” Nadal said. “I think it’s only cramping that happened at the end to him. Hopefully it’s nothing important. But I think he is in the right position to have a very productive season. I am happy that I was able to win against a great player this afternoon.”

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