Rafael Nadal said that he had been “very sick” with Covid as he returned with a patchy win over qualifier Ricardas Berankis at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament on Thursday.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion launched his Australian Open preparations with a 6-2, 7-5 win, his first singles match on the ATP Tour since August after injury and then the virus.

The 35-year-old, who tested positive for Covid last month, was in action just as his rival Novak Djokovic — who is also chasing a record-breaking 21st Slam title — was facing deportation from Australia.

“I felt so tired and I had fever,” Nadal said of having Covid.

“I had to be on the bed for a couple of days without having the chance to move much because I was very sick with fever.”

The Spaniard, who fell ill after an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, said: “After I got infected, I needed to see a little bit how my body improved after Covid.

“I’m quite happy the way that I improved in terms of recovery,” he added.

Nadal, who suffered a foot injury last year and sat out Wimbledon and the US Open, received a first-round bye at the Melbourne Summer Set before meeting Lithuania’s 104th-ranked Berankis.

Nadal, who played doubles on Tuesday, looked in good touch early on and wrapped up the first set comfortably, breaking Berankis twice.

The Spaniard broke Berankis early in the second set and looked on track for a straightforward win when he led 5-2, only for his serve to go off the boil and allow the Lithuanian back into the match.

Berankis levelled the set at 5-5 before Nadal at last held serve, then broke once more to wrap up victory.

Nadal said he wasn’t surprised he had some ups and downs in the match.

“It’s not possible to be totally confident and comfortable after an injury of probably around six months,” he said.

Nadal will take on either Australia’s Alexei Popyrin or Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.