MELBOURNE, Australia: Facing a break point late in the third set, Rafael Nadal sprinted to his left and hit a running, around-the-post forehand that landed just inside the line.
Laslo Djere, ranked 56th, shrugged, his head dropped and he no doubt wondered what more he needed to do to win a point against the 20-time major champion.
He’d had three break points when Nadal was serving for the second set, and didn’t get close to cashing in one.
When Djere, going for everything, double-faulted to open what became the last game of the match, a woman in the crowd at Rod Laver Arena yelled out “”It’s all right, Laslo.”
Easy for her to say.
Nadal finished off a 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 win in just under two hours when Djere, facing triple match point, served another double-fault.
The 34-year-old Spaniard showed no signs of a back problem that hampered his preparation for the year’s first major.
Nadal didn’t play for Spain at the ATP Cup last week and was troubled by stiffness in his lower back during practice.
“Well, it’s been a tough 15 days for me. I had some issues with the back,” Nadal said in his post-match interview. “I needed to survive today. That’s what I did. Straight sets — that’s what I need.”
“That’s it. I can’t say much more,” he added. “Today I found a way to be through.”