MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AFP) –
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic booked their places in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Wednesday as the pair each passed tough tests after recent physical setbacks.
Nadal made a predictably successful return to his beloved clay on Wednesday, the Spanish third seed starting his quest for a ninth straight Monte Carlo Masters title with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Marinko Matosevic.
Tournament number one Djokovic put his injured right ankle under major pressure but still came up with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Russian Mikhail Youzhny.
The Serb had waited until the last minute to make his decision on whether he could compete after rolling his ankle ten days ago.
He spent two and a quarter hours on court, earning a late break for 5-4 in the decider as Youzhny missed a drop shot, before serving out the match.
“I’m not at 100 per cent but this was still a very good win,” said the top seed.
Nadal was totally in his comfort zone on another sunny, warm day on the Mediterranean, demolishing the Australian in 62 minutes.
He won the first seven points of the match, with Matosevic earning only two points in the first four games.
The Spaniard ended with 15 winners, eight unforced errors and conversions on six of nine break point chances in the crowd-pleasing rout.
“I played well with the right feelings and doing the right things, so I’m very happy,” he said. “I had the right intensity, with no mistakes.
“I was trying to find a good feeling on the ball, to find the right rhythm. And I think I did, no? That gives me confidence.”
Nadal’s quick win marked a successful return to action after resting for three weeks in the wake of his Indian Wells title of last month.
The 26-year-old is planning his schedule more carefully after missing seven months of play in 2012-2013 due to his chronic knee problems.
But he will have little rest in the run-up to Roland Garros, with entries set for Barcelona plus the Madrid and Rome Masters over the next four weeks.
Nadal, playing Monte Carlo for the 10th time, improved his phenomenal record here to 45-1, with his only loss coming to Guillermo Coria in 2003 as a teenager.
The Spaniard owns the best career match record on clay in the post-1968 Open era with a 267-20 record and 38 clay titles from 43 finals on the surface.
He said, though, that despite his enviable Monte Carlo run, he feels no extra pressure to win.
“I feel that I am coming here trying to play well. As in every tournament, (I) try my best in every moment.
“If that happens, if I’m able to play my best tennis, probably I will have my chance to be in a good position to play in the last rounds, to fight for important things.”
Matosevic had few chances in his first career match against a top five opponent.
Nadal next plays German Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Elsewhere in the second round, Czech fourth seed Tomas Berdych began his clay season with a defeat of Spain’s Marcel Granollers 7-5, 6-4.
“Always the first matches are kind of tough. If you get an opponent like Marcel, it is even tougher,” said Berdych, who recovered from a break down in each set.
“In the end, I felt quite good.”
Croatian ninth seed Marin Cilic put out South African Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-3 while veteran Finn Jarkko Nieminen upset Canadian 12th seed Milos Raonic 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (7/3).
World number two Andy Murray makes his clay season bow later in the second round after.