Jet-lagged Nadal wins

Spaniard struggles in his first round match before attributing it to a packed calendar, but world No 1 beats Bjorn Phau 7-6 6-3 7-6.

It is the Spaniard Rafael Nadal's first Grand Slam tournament as the world's No 1 player.
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NEW YORK // Rafael Nadal will never complain about winning in three sets - even if the victory required two tie-breaks against the German qualifier Bjorn Phau in the first round. Seeded first in a major for the first time in his career, Nadal began his pursuit of tennis history - he is aiming to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in the same season - with a 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) triumph.

"To win in three sets is always a good result," Nadal said. "I had some difficult moments, but that's going to help me in the pressure moments." Nadal's first pressure moments came at the hands of the world's 136th-ranked player. "He's a good player," Nadal said of his first-round foe. "I played with a little bit less intensity than the last few months." Indeed, the Olympic champion was not nearly as sharp as he has been of late, presenting his German opponent with a handful of opportunities - thanks to 35 unforced errors.

The Spaniard, 22, dismissed the notion that he may have been looking past a lesser opponent, suggesting fatigue could have been a factor. "I try to go round to round," Nadal added. "I'm not thinking any further than the second round right now. "I'm a little bit more tired than usual. The thing is to try to be good. Mentally and physically, I think I am playing good tennis." Despite the long trip from Beijing, where he played some of his best tennis at the Olympic Games, Nadal was not willing to attribute his minor fatigue to anything but the normal grind of the professional tour.

"The system is very tough," Nadal said. "The problem is I played Toronto, Cincinnati, Beijing, then came back here. So, two times in two weeks, I've had 12 hours of jet lag." Nadal seems like the natural favourite, yet has never gone beyond the quarter-finals in five previous tries at Flushing Meadows. He took a while to find his rhythm against Phau, whose spirited play made him a crowd favourite. Fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium, often quiet during early daytime sessions, cheered when Phau dived for a shot, rolled over on his back and chased a return.

Next, Nadal will play Ryler de Heart of the United States in the second round. And when de heart was asked how he was going to deal with the challenge, he waxed humility. "How do I beat Rafa? That's a very good question," De Heart said. "I mean, he's beatable. It's going to be a tall task, and I'm probably not the guy most people are expecting to do that. "I'm still going to go out there and do my best. I'm going to give it everything I have, and I think tactically there are some things I definitely can implement to try to give him trouble, and that's all you can do."

* Agencies