Monaco | Nadal makes an impressive entrance
The outstanding Rafa Nadal finally made his entrance on the Monte Carlo Club courts to the acclaim that the ‘King of Clay’ deserves and he responded by eliminating Aljaz Bedene, the former British citizen now playing for the land of his birth, Slovenia, in straight sets.
The Spaniard, who has been out of competition since Australia, produced an impressive performance on his favourite surface as he opened his challenge for an unprecedented 11th title.
It's important for me to win matches. I need days on court. Every match that I have the chance to win is great news because it's confidence and is a chance to play another day, and that's what I need Rafa Nadal
He required just 79-mintes to quell a spirited opponent which was not reflected in the 6-1 6-3 scoreline as Bedene fought hard, especially in the second set but the defending champion did what he does best, outlast and wear out his opponents with aggressive and powerful baseline play.
The moment Nadal broke his opponent to take a 4-3 lead in the second set, the writing was on the wall and he marched into the third round where Karen Khachanov awaits, the big serving 21-year-old Russian having dispatched Gilles Simon, a wildcard entry, 6-2 6-2.
“The win against Bedene is a positive start, of course,” Nadal said following his win. “It’s important for me to win matches. I need days on court. Every match that I have the chance to win is great news because it’s confidence and is a chance to play another day, and that’s what I need.”
Meanwhile the former champion Novak Djokovic, seeded 9, followed up his opening round win with a more impressive performance to clear what was expected to be a testing hurdle in the shape of the Croat Borna Coric, another young gun on the up.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion needed ten match points to finally progress past Coric 7-6(2) 7-5 after more than two hours of play in the Mediterranean sun.
The Serb, playing in only his fourth tournament since last Wimbledon when a right elbow injury forced him off the court for over six months before he attempted a return.
Having also dispatched Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek from their coaching roles, he has turned to his long time former coach Marian Vajda who seems to have given him a better direction after his early exits in Indian Wells and Miami.
And provided the seedings work out, the 30-year-old could be facing Nadal in the quarter-finals, a match which should provide a better insight into his rejuvenation.
“It was a battle until the last point, a good test,” said Djokovic, who will next face fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria.
Having been hindered by a persistent right elbow injury, Djokovic admits he is finally pain-free for the first time in two years albeit a little rusty and that he is using a lighter racket to take pressure off that elbow.
“I could have won the match earlier definitely, but it was great to deal with these kinds of emotions again,” he commented. “I’m obviously lacking that match play.
“I made some small minor changes that actually in our world are quite significant,” he added. “It feels like I gained more power, especially on the serve.”
Japan’s Kei Nishikori also continued his comeback from injury with an impressive 7-5 6-2 win over Russian Daniil Medvedev on his third match point to reach the third round.
The former world number four, who is currently ranked 36, has struggled over the last year with a right wrist injury but followed up his first-round victory against the 12th seeded Tomas Berdych with a solid display on the main show court.
“The first set was a real battle, he was playing a little better than me I think at the beginning,” said Nishikori, who is playing the tournament for the first time in six years.
“I just tried to stay calm and not do anything too crazy and stay calm at the baseline.”
Second-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia also advanced to the third round after defeating Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-3 7-6(4).
World No.3 Cilic needed 93-minutes to knock out Verdasco, the World No. 37, depriving the 2010 finalist of his 500th career win.
Up next, Cilic is scheduled to play in the round of 16 against Canada’s Milos Raonic, who earned a 7-6(5) 6-2 win over Marco Cecchinato of Italy.
In other matches, Philipp Kohlschreiber dismissed the 15th seed Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-4 6-2 who will now take on Grigor Dimitrov. Unlike his Spanish compatriot, 11th seeded Roberto Bautista Agut came through against Feliciano Lopez 6-3 7-6(5) while Richard Gasquet eliminated the 10th seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-2 6-1.
Two other unseeded players progressed, namely Jan-Lennard Struff who outplayed the 13th seeded Fabio Fognini 6-4 6-2 and Andreas Seppi, who battled past Lucky Loser Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, 4-6 6-3 7-5.