Rafa Powers Past Bautista Agut

In his first match since the BNP Paribas Open, Rafael Nadal began his bid for a 12th Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters crown in style on Wednesday.

The 11-time champion raced past countryman Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-1 to notch his 69th victory in 73 matches at the opening ATP Masters 1000 event of the European clay swing. Nadal saved each of the five break points he faced to advance after 76 minutes.

The World No. 2 extends his winning streak to 16 matches in the Principality. The last man to defeat Nadal at this event was Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semi-finals. The second seed also improves to 3-0 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against the Spanish No. 2, winning each of those three encounters in straight sets.

“This is just the first match. [It has] been a very positive start,” said Nadal. “The result says that. And the feeling on court, too… I just started well. It’s the first match in almost a year on this surface.”

“But, of course, a start like this helps. Tomorrow is another good test against Grigor, so let’s see. I need to play well again.”

Grigor Dimitrov defeated Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6(2), 6-4 to record his 14th win in 20 appearances at the third Masters 1000 event of the season. Dimitrov will be aiming to reach his second quarter-final of the year, after reaching the last eight at the Brisbane International in January (l. to Nishikori). Nadal leads Dimitrov 11-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, which includes wins for the Spaniard at this event in the 2013 quarter-finals and last year’s semi-finals.

Any suspicion that Nadal may take some time to recapture his best level were quickly erased on Court Rainier III, as the Spaniard dominated the centre of the court. Nadal regularly moved Bautista Agut out of position, opening the court with powerful forehand combinations to take the opening set after 32 minutes.

The Australian Open finalist rode the momentum into the second set, firing a signature forehand up the line en route to his third break of serve. After recovering from 0/40 down at 2-1, Nadal charged into the net to secure a 4-1 advantage. The defending champion moved up the court behind his forehand on his first match point, booking his place in the last 16 with a forehand volley.

Bautista Agut entered the match with a 3-1 record against Top 10 opponents this year, which includes two victories over World No. 1 Djokovic. The Spaniard opened his season by capturing his ninth ATP Tour title at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open (d. Berdych), before breaking through to his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open (l. to Tsitsipas).

The 32-year-old will be aiming to add to his Open Era record 57 clay-court titles this week. The Manacor native also owns a record 92.0 per cent success rate on clay (416-36) according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone.

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