Monte Carlo | Nadal is back and dominating
Rafa Nadal is back and quickly showed why he is the most feared player on a clay court when he annihilated his compatriot, another expert on the surface, Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1 6-1 in his opening match in defence of his Monte Carlo Masters title.
It was a great start, it's good to be back here. I've had some great moments on this court, I really enjoy playing here. It's not easy to come back from injury, I had to do a lot of mental work as well to be prepared. Rafa Nadal
The 11-time champion, who had been nursing a knee injury which forced him to quit ahead of an Indian Wells semi-final against Roger Federer a month ago, showed no signs of any problems in that area during the 76-minute masterclass.
Nadal pocketed the opening five games of the afternoon in 17 minutes as he got off the line towards securing a record breaking 12th title.
He was equally in control during the second set, where he saved three break points in the fourth game and two more in the sixth.
“It was a great start, it’s good to be back here,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner from Mallorca said.
“I’ve had some great moments on this court, I really enjoy playing here. It’s not easy to come back from injury, I had to do a lot of mental work as well to be prepared.
“I tried to play solid, dominate with my forehand when I had the chance.”
Bautista Agut has now lost to his Spanish countryman in all three of their meetings, while Nadal improved his incredible record in Monte Carlo to 69-4 as he targets a fourth consecutive title at the event. Grigor Dimitrov, however, is the second seed’s next opponent for a place in the quarter-finals, the Hungarian having survived a stern challenge from Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6(2) 6-4.
Meanwhile third seed Alexander Zverev rediscovered traces of his best form with a 6-1 6-4 defeat of Canada’s wonder-kid, the 18-year-old destined for great things, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
The more experienced 21-year-old German reached the last 16 in confident manner as he tries to improve on his semi-final appearance of a year ago.
“This is the first time this season I’ve felt really healthy,” said Zverev, who lost early at the two previous Masters at both Indian Wells and Miami, as well as in Marrakech last week.
“I’ve been training well but haven’t been able to take that into matches,” he added. “I live just 500 metres from here, I’m comfortable on this court. I’m starting to feel better about my game. I’m really ready for the clay season.”
Canadian Auger-Aliassime has made a fast rise in the rankings from 175 a year ago to his current position of 33rd.
Zverev swept the opening set in 30 minutes but had to get through a series of three straight breaks of serve between him and his opponent before finally advancing in 78 minutes and a meeting with Fabio Fognini who was handed a walk-over by Giles Simon suffering from back problems.
Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas moved ahead, defeating Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 7-5.
“I need to maintain my focus, my concentration, my aggressive mindset when I’m on the court,” Tsitsipas said. “If all these are combined, then I have nothing to fear and I have nothing to be afraid of when I’m on the court.
“This is the first big clay court tournament, not everyone is very well prepared for that. It’s been a long hardcourt court season before the clay.”
Japan’s Kei Nishikori became the biggest casualty of the week when he lost his opening match 7-5 6-3 against Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France.
Fifth seed Nishikori, the 2018 finalist, made 25 unforced errors and just 14 winners in succumbing to the Frenchman., and now moves on to Barcelona.
Herbert, who overcame Fernando Verdasco in the first round, struck 31 winners as he avenge a three-set loss to Nishikori in Rotterdam earlier this season.
“I’m very happy to finally beat Kei,” the 49th-ranked Herbert said. “I was very confident with my defence. I came to the match with good feelings after the first round.”