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Ricky’s Preview and Pick for the Melbourne 250 Quarterfinals: Nadal vs. Griekspoor

Rafael Nadal of Spain on the court as he trains during a practice session on day three of the Melbourne Summer Set tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 05 January 2022. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal’s latest comeback to tennis is off to a winning start.

After prevailing in a doubles match with fellow Spaniard Jaume Munar on Tuesday at the Melbourne Summer Set, Nadal took the court in much more notable fashion on Thursday afternoon. Following a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed, the 35-year-old kicked off his 2022 singles campaign with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Ricardas Berankis. Nadal failed to close out the proceedings in routine fashion from 5-2 up in the second set, but he broke to love at 6-5 to get across the finish line in straight sets.

“(I’m) super happy to be back in competition,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion assured. “It’s difficult to imagine a better place than here [at] the beginning of the season in Australia. It’s only the first match after a while. Honestly, I have been going through some difficult, challenging moments the past year-and-a-half, but in general terms I am super happy to be back in competition.

“Of course it’s important to start with a victory, (which) gives me the chance to play another time tomorrow. That’s the main thing at this moment because I didn’t play for such a long time.”

Nadal also played two exhibition matches at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition last month, and although he lost them to Andy Murray and Denis Shapovalov they were a productive warmup for 2022. It’s part of the reason why the world No. 6 looks comfortable and in relatively strong form at Melbourne Park heading into Friday’s quarterfinal contest against Tallon Griekspoor.

Speaking of strong form, Griekspoor was positively on fire at the conclusion of 2021. The 25-year-old Dutchman won five Challenger tournaments in a row last fall and ended the season on a 26-match winning streak. He has extended that number to 28 with Melbourne victories over Dominik Koepfer (6-3, 6-4) and Alexei Popyrin (6-3, 4-6, 6-3).

Netherlands’ Tallon Griekspoor in action against Uruguay’s Martin Cuevas during a Davis Cup World Zone Group I match between Uruguay and the Netherlands, in Montevideo, Uruguay, 18 September 2021. EPA-EFE/Federico Anfitti

This clearly won’t be a walk in the park for Nadal, but only four of Griekspoor’s 28 recent wins have come against opponents in the top 100 — and none against top 50 players. The world No. 65 is 0-2 overall and 0-6 in total sets against top 10 opponents.

Count on a good test for Nadal, but one that he will pass without too much trouble.

Pick: Nadal in 2

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.