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Melissa Woods

Scratchy Nadal overcomes Brit Draper

Top seed Rafael Nadal has ground out a four set win over young Briton Jack Draper in round one. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

A scratchy Rafael Nadal has survived a rocky first-round encounter against young Brit Jack Draper to keep his Australian Open defence alive.

Struggling to find form, the top-seeded Spaniard overcame a cramp-ridden Draper to post a 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1 in their their Rod Laver Arena showdown on Monday.

Draper was unable to move freely for most of the fourth set, allowing Nadal to run away with the match.

Nadal was relieved to find a way against the world No.38, who he predicted would have a long and bright future at Melbourne Park.

"If we put into perspective all the situation I went through in the last six months, it's a positive start," Nadal said.

"He's one of the toughest opponents I could meet as a seed.

"The last couple of matches haven't been too easy for me and hopefully I can keep going from this victory."

Nadal, who only won one of his previous six matches leading into the Open, predicted a tough opening clash with the 21-year-old, who is of the rising stars on the ATP tour.

And the 36-year-old, who battled a run of injuries in 2022, was not wrong, although his own unforced error count of 46 contributed to the tense affair.

Nadal also wasn't helped when a ball boy bizarrely took the wrong racquet midway through the first set for restringing, leaving the veteran digging into his bag for a replacement.

After burning through the second set, it looked like Draper might cause a major upset but the youngster started to cramp early in the third, which took the pace off his service game.

Nadal broke Draper in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead, but the Brit broke back in the eighth to level at 4-4, before the Spaniard kicked away.

After an outfit change, Draper looked refreshed as he broke Nadal's opening service game but the world No.2, who took over the top seeding after the withdrawal of injured countryman Carlos Alcaraz, hit straight back.

Draper's leg cramps then returned leaving him unable to run, with Nadal, who is looking to extend his all-time grand slam record of 22 titles, steaming through the final set to wrap up the win.

He will face American Mackenzie McDonald in round two.

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