After six weeks away, Rafael Nadal made an emphatic return to the ATP Tour Wednesday at the Mutua Madrid Open, moving past Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 6-1, 7-6(4) to reach the third round.
The Spaniard last competed in March, when American Taylor Fritz ended his perfect start to the season in the Indian Wells final. However, in a rain-disrupted clash against Kecmanovic, the World No. 4 played as if he had never been away, hitting with his explosive power as he recovered from failing to serve out the match at 6-5 in the second set to advance after one hour and 55 minutes.
“Every comeback is different. We had to put all circumstances together to analyse every single comeback, and today has been a very important match for me, playing at home on clay against a player that has been playing well for the past couple of months,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference.
“So [if you] put everything together [it is] a very tough first round,” Nadal added. “I think I managed it very well. I played at a good level, so [I am] very pleased with the victory. I just try to stay humble to know things [are] not going to be perfect here and just moving forward with the right determination, to accept that I need to fight, I need to stay positive. I need to play with the right attitude, and take every single match that I’m able to win like a present to play another time here.”
Rafael Nadal is aiming to win his sixth title on home soil in Madrid this week, having last triumphed at the clay-court event in 2017. If he can accomplish the feat, he will move level with Novak Djokovic on a record 37 ATP Masters 1000 crowns
The 35-year-old has improved to 21-1 on the season and moved to 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against Kecmanovic. Earlier this year, Nadal captured a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
The third seed will next meet Marrakech champion David Goffin after the Belgian qualifier defeated Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 6-2.
In an entertaining match in front of a packed crowd, Nadal flew out of the blocks as he pulled the Serbian around the court with his heavy topspin. The World No. 4 did not face a break point in the first set as he caused Kecmanovic problems with his accuracy and depth to lead after 36 minutes.
Play was then halted at the start of the second due to rain, but resumed shortly after when the roof was closed on Manolo Santana Stadium. The interruption did little to halt Nadal’s rhythm, though, as he continued to play with relentless intensity. Nadal established further control when he broke to lead 6-5 in the second set, but failed to serve out the match, with Kecmanovic finding deep returns. However, the Spaniard quickly regained his focus in the tie-break to triumph.
Alongside his penetrating attack, the Spaniard was defensively strong. He ‘stole’ 49 per cent of points in the match by hanging in rallies deep behind the baseline.
Kecmanovic is currently at a career-high No. 32 in the ATP Rankings having enjoyed a career-best start to the season. The 22-year-old has earned 23 tour-level wins, reaching the quarter-finals in Indian Wells and Miami.