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 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. 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.
“I always had fantastic relationship with Roger. I still have fantastic relationship with Roger,” he said. “Just I said we can have different views about how the tour needs to work. That’s all.”
On the women’s side, defending champion Kim Clijsters beat 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 6-3, 6-1.
Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki wasted little time dispatching Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-1.