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Nadal fires warning with mauling of Kuznetsov

ESPN staff
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Rafael Nadal made the ideal start to his Australian Open campaign with a routine 6-4 6-1 6-1 win over Alex Kuznetsov.

Nadal arrived in Melbourne under a cloud, with concerns over his fitness and hunger for the game. He dispelled concerns over his shoulder in a recent press conference and insisted the fire was still burning bright. And judged on his win over Kuznetsov, those words would appear to ring true.

It was Nadal's right knee rather than his shoulder that was the talk of the Hisense Arena on Monday, as he stepped on court sporting a sizeable piece of strapping. His movement was somewhat ginger early on but he eased through the gears as the match progressed and by the end of the contest, Kuznetsov had been put through the mangle.

Kuznetsov made a poor start, losing his opening service game courtesy of an astute Hawkeye challenge from Nadal and it allowed the No. 2 seed to ease into the match. He overcame a minor wobble in the sixth game to hold for 4-2, sending down his first ace of the match, and he closed out the opening set in style.

Nadal's movement steadily improved, seeming to dispel concerns over the knee strapping and he broke to love at the start of the second set.

The ball striking with his much talked about heavier racket was crisp and though the occasional stunning winner flew from the Kuznetsov racket, the Spaniard powered through the second set.

An impressive aspect of Nadal's play was his serving. He was well above 85% of points won behind his first serve and it enabled him to take an aggressive stance on the baseline and crash winners at will.

Kuznetsov kept fighting and avoided a bagel, but he was simply overwhelmed as Nadal fired a warning to the rest of the field by racing into the second round.

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