MELBOURNE, Australia — John Isner hit more aces than his opponent, 47-40. He delivered more total winners and finished with more overall points, too. What Isner failed to do for the first time in his career was beat an American foe at a Grand Slam tournament, and now the highest-ranked man from the U.S. is gone from the Australian Open.
Reilly Opelka, ranked just 97th, earned his first victory in a main-draw match at a major by edging Isner in four tiebreakers 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) on Monday in the first round at Melbourne Park.
Isner was seeded No. 9, was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year and had been 9-0 in all-U.S. contests at the Slams.
If anyone is the 33-year-old’s equal when it comes to big serving, though, it’s Opelka, a 21-year-old based in Florida who at 6-foot-11 is an inch taller than Isner.
Isner went up a break in the fourth set and served to force a fifth while ahead 5-4. But he was broken there, missing one backhand followed by a trio of forehands. Opelka took the eventual — inevitable? — tiebreaker with the help of three aces, including one at 141 mph to close out the match.
The No. 2-seeded Rafael Nadal had little trouble despite missing a lot of tennis since September.
Nadal moved on with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Australian wild-card entry James Duckworth, his first match back at Rod Laver Arena since he had to retire in his quarterfinal match in the tournament last year.
The 17-time major winner hasn’t played since retiring from his semifinal at the US Open because of a knee injury, and then had surgery on his right ankle in November. He withdrew from a warm-up tournament in Brisbane in the first week of the season because of a muscle strain in his thigh.
“Not easy to come back after a lot of months of [no] competition, especially against a player playing super aggressive every shot,” Nadal said. “It’s very difficult to start after an injury — I know it very well. It’s very special to be back.”
Wearing a sleeveless top, he showed no signs of any issues against Duckworth. His only hiccup came when he served for the match in the ninth game of the third set and was broken at love. He returned the favor quickly, though, to seal his spot in the second round.
Nadal has lost only twice in the first round at Grand Slams — to Steve Darcis at 2013 Wimbledon, and to Fernando Verdasco here in 2016 — and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win all four majors at least twice.
Fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson won his first match at Melbourne Park since 2015 when he beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing on the men’s side were No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 26 Fernando Verdasco.
Defending champion Roger Federer was scheduled to play a night match later Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.