- ATP Tour
Nadal up and running in Madrid
Rafael Nadal weathered a fleeting threat from Benoit Paire in his opening match at the Mutua Madrid Open before booking his place in the third round with a regulation 6-3 6-4 win.
The world No. 5, whose hopes of returning to the top four in time for the French Open have been boosted by Novak Djokovic's shock exit and a potential quarter-final showdown with world No. 4 David Ferrer, wrapped up a controlled if not entirely convincing victory in one hour 26 minutes.
Paire did his best to cause Nadal problems throughout, looking for the lines and throwing in drop shots with abandon in a bid to keep the Spaniard on the run whenever possible, but time and again Nadal responded with interest to the delight of his countrymen at La Caja Magica. A single break in the sixth game was enough to seal the first set with the 11-time grand slam champion rarely taken out of his comfort zone.
After missing out on a chance to break in the first game of the second, however, the Spaniard found himself in trouble while serving at 1-2, saving a break point with a stunning improvised high forehand off a Paire smash that left the Frenchman with his head in his hands. Having survived the mini-crisis Nadal re-established his authority on serve and broke for a 5-4 lead before serving out the match.
Nadal needs to win both the Madrid and Rome Masters to give himself a chance of rising above Ferrer in the world rankings before the French Open, after the organisers revealed that the defending champion would not be seeded any higher than his world ranking.
He will face Mikhail Youzhny in the third round after the Russian beat Nicolas Almagro 7-6(4) 4-6 6-2, while the in-form Tommy Haas - a 6-3 7-5 winner over Tommy Robredo - plays Ferrer after the Spaniard's 7-5 6-2 win over Denis Istomin.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was another to advance thanks to a hard-fought 7-6(5) 7-6(2) victory over Robin Haase. Tsonga lacked a clinical edge on the big points, converting one of seven break chances, but still managed to advance to round three.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych was taken the distance before dispatching Poland's Jerzy Janowicz 6-7(3) 6-3 6-2, Kei Nishikori ousted Viktor Troicki 7-5 6-2, and Kevin Anderson knocked out world No. 19 Juan Monaco 7-6(5) 3-6 6-4.