MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal sat in his hotel room in “unbelievable pain,” his right knee cracking and his leg cramping. He wondered if he’d be able to play his first-round match at the Australian Open.
He already had plenty on his mind going into the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. There was his ailing shoulder and his spat with Roger Federer over player conditions on the tour, a rare clash between these respectful rivals that has since been smoothed over.
After hours of medical tests and treatment, Nadal decided to play but was “scared” when he took the court against American qualifier Alex Kuznetsov. Judging by the scoreline, the outcome looked very matter of fact: Nadal won 6-4, 6-1, 6-1, but it was anything but that for the 2009 Australian Open champion.
On the tournament’s tumultuous eve Sunday, Nadal used a Spanish language news conference to criticize Federer for holding back while letting others “burn themselves” in the push for changes on the tour.
Nadal and Federer are in the same half of the draw at a major for the first time since 2005 after Novak Djokovic surpassed them both in 2011 by winning three of the four Grand Slam titles and taking the No. 1 ranking.
Third-seeded Federer started his bid for a 17th major title with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win over Alexander Kudryavtsev of Russia. He then just as quickly batted away any notion of a simmering feud with Nadal. Ever the statesman, Federer conceded that players differed on ways of resolving certain issues and “things are fine between us.”
“We can’t always agree on everything,” he said in a diplomatic tone suggesting that even if there is any tension it will remain a private matter. He also praised Nadal for maturing into a leader.
Nadal didn’t apologize for what he said about Federer, but did say he was sorry for publicly airing locker-room divisions. He said he will not answer any questions for the rest of the tournament about player grievances regarding schedules or prize money.
Nadal has been dealing with a sore shoulder for months and has indicated he will take time off next month to let it heal. But he surprised everyone when he walked onto Hisense Arena with a heavily taped knee Monday.
After his opening victory, he disclosed — saying it was to avoid any mystery — that he’d felt a “crack” and later experienced “unbelievable pain.” He said he tried to stretch his leg but he had no movement in his knee.
Tests attributed the problem to a pinched tendon, and he said he should be fine for his next match after a day off.
Nadal was among a host of leading players with injuries coming into the tournament. Federer said he wasn’t bothered by the back problem that forced him to withdraw from a tournament in Doha this month.
Defending champion Kim Clijsters beat Portuguese qualifier Maria Joao Koehler 7-5, 6-1 and didn’t seem troubled by the hip spasms that caused her to retire during the Brisbane International semifinals. Li Na, who lost to Clijsters in last year’s Australian final but rebounded to win the French Open, defeated Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-1.
Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki had to wait until last match on Rod Laver Arena to get her tournament under way and test the left wrist she hurt in Sydney last week. She wasted little time dispatching Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-1.