Nadal Grades His Return Performance

Rafael Nadal was in form to begin his clay-court season on Wednesday, dismissing fellow lefty Federico Delbonis to reach the third round of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. But for the 34-year-old, it was just another day at the office.

“It was solid match, I think. Of course, a very positive result. He’s a good player on clay. [It was a] positive start for me,” Nadal said. “I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong. Just a solid match, a positive start. I think I did what I had to do today.”

Nadal is now 72-5 at this ATP Masters 1000 event. Typically, players wait nearly a full year to return to clay after Roland Garros. But the Spaniard claimed his record-extending 12th trophy in Paris just six months ago, as the clay-court major was moved to October due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Honestly, I just played two tournaments on clay [last year]. That’s the truth. I never felt last year that I played a full clay-court season. I just played Rome and Roland Garros,” Nadal said. “For the same time that you told me you should feel strange because we have a shorter gap, at the same time inside myself I never had a real clay-court season last year.

“I am just trying to adapt myself and trying to make the decisions that I feel more comfortable always.”

Nadal looked impressive nonetheless on Court Rainier III, dropping just three games against a player who was competing in his fifth clay-court event of the season. The third seed broke the Argentine’s serve five times and won 57 per cent of his return points.

“I feel good, yeah. I think I had great practice sessions for the last three, four weeks,” Nadal said. “I feel in good shape, honestly. You can win, you can lose, you can play better or worse. In terms of physically and mentally, I’m enjoying being on the Tour.”

The 11-time Monte-Carlo champion will next face a familiar foe in Grigor Dimitrov, who has ousted Jan-Lennard Struff and Jeremy Chardy to reach the third round. Nadal knows he has to be locked in against the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion.

“Tomorrow I have a very tough opponent in front [of me], so I need to be at my 100 per cent every single moment,” Nadal said.

The lefty leads their ATP Head2Head series 13-1, including three triumphs in Monte-Carlo, but Nadal isn’t expecting anything short of a battle against the Bulgarian, who has pushed him to a deciding set seven times. One of those seven came in the 2013 quarter-finals in the Principality.

“We had some great matches. In Melbourne, of course [it was] best of five. The semi-final [was] an emotional one. We played another great match in Beijing, another one in Shanghai with Grigor,” Nadal said. “He’s a good friend, a good guy, and a great player. [It’s] going to be a tough test in my second round. Going to be his third. I need to be ready for it. I hope to be ready for it. I am just excited to play a tough match very early in the tournament.”

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