Rafa Races Through Opener

Rafael Nadal opened his bid for a ninth Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters crown on Wednesday with a 6-2, 6-1 dismissal of French young gun Lucas Pouille, and afterwards said it was his best match of the year so far.

The third seed beat the wild card in 69 minutes, converting four of his seven break points and winning 75 per cent of his service points. The No. 108-ranked Pouille had beaten Dominic Thiem on his debut at the Monte-Carlo Country Club to earn the contest with Nadal.

“I was practising well before the tournament started,” said Nadal. “I had a good five days of practice here in Monte Carlo that I felt well. Always the competition is more important. [Today] was a good test for me. The result was easy, but the match was not easy and the opponent was not easy. I was able to win with a very positive score.

“I don’t know how many unforced errors I did during the whole match, but for sure almost none. I played with the right mentality, the right concentration. I didn’t have mistakes in a row. I play aggressive when I have to play aggressive. I hit some better passing shots than the last couple of months.

“Today I go back to the hotel with a fantastic feeling because I played probably the best match of the year for me.”

The 28-year-old Nadal has a 51-3 record at this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournament, winning eight successive titles from 2005-12. His 46-match winning run was ended by Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final and last year he was beaten in the quarter-finals by David Ferrer.

The Mallorcan is bidding for his second ATP World Tour title of the season, after victory on the clay in Buenos Aires (d. Monaco). He goes on to face 15th seed John Isner, who struck 16 aces in a 7-6(4), 7-6(5) victory over Viktor Troicki.

Nadal has a 4-0 record over Isner, but the American famously took Nadal to five sets in the Roland Garros first round four years ago.

“I play the greatest clay-court player of all time tomorrow,” said Isner. “It’s going to be a big challenge for me. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve played him once before on clay, at Roland Garros, and I took him to five sets. I know I have a game that can disrupt him. It’s going to very tough, but I’m going to go out there and have fun.”

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