World No. 1 Rafael Nadal received a thunderous welcome to Court Rainier III on Wednesday and he didn’t disappoint the capacity crowd on his return to the ATP World Tour at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
The Spanish superstar, a record 10-time champion, was fluent and impressive in his 6-1, 6-3 second-round victory over Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia in 68 minutes.
“It was a positive start,” said Nadal. “That’s all. It’s important for me to win matches, of course. I need days on court. Since Shanghai last year, I have spent not enough time on court competing. Every match that I have the chance to win is a great news, because it [helps my] confidence and is a chance to play another day. That’s what I need.”
Nadal improved to a 64-4 record at the historic ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event to set up a meeting against Russian Karen Khachanov, who was rock solid from the baseline in his 6-2, 6-2 win over French wild card Gilles Simon.
“(Karen) is a tough opponent, of course,” said Nadal. “No doubt about that. He’s a player that serves big and has big shots from the baseline. I need to play aggressive. I can’t let him play in comfortable positions because then it will be impossible… I know it’s going to be an important test for me.”
Nadal must retain the Monte-Carlo title, which would represent his 31st Masters 1000 crown, to remain at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. Otherwise his Swiss rival, Roger Federer, will return to the top spot on 23 April. The 31-year-old Nadal is in his 170th week at No. 1, tying John McEnroe for the sixth-most weeks in rankings history (since August 1973).
Nadal raced out to a 3-0 lead against Bedene in their first match since the 2016 second round and broke a second time in the sixth game with great variety of spin and power. When Bedene saved a break point in the first game of the second set, Nadal had to bide his time and later broke serve twice more — for a 4-3 advantage and then in the final game.
Bedene drops to a 9-3 mark on red dirt this season, highlighted by a runner-up finish at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires (l. to Thiem) in February. He is now 0-17 lifetime against Top 10 stars.
Already with two clay-court match wins this year in a Davis Cup tie for Spain, today marked Nadal’s first completed match at an ATP World Tour tournament since November 2017. In January, he sustained a hip injury during his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic.
Originally published at Montecarlotennismasters.com