ROME: Nine-times champion Rafa Nadal showed little signs of rust when he played his first match in 200 days as he beat fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1 6-1 in the Italian Open in Rome yesterday.
Nadal, who received a bye into the second round, has not played a tournament since winning his 85th singles title in Acapulco, having skipped the Western & Southern Open and the US Open in New York due to Covid-19 concerns.
The match was also Nadal’s first on clay in 465 days after his French Open triumph last year and the 34-year-old Spaniard sent an ominous message to the field as he dominated the US Open semi-finalist from start at an empty Foro Italico.
Nadal broke in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead and did not look back, winning the last 10 points in the opening set to put down a marker for Carreno Busta who struggled with the pace of the ball on clay after two hardcourt tournaments.
The second set was more of the same as a visibly jumpy Nadal could not wait to get going between games and the world number two wrapped up the match in 73 minutes with 20 winners while Carreno Busta made 28 unforced errors.
Italian wildcard Jannik Sinner pulled off a stunning upset in the second round when he beat third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1 6-7(9) 6-2 to take revenge on the Greek who beat him in straight sets at the same stage last year.
Sinner, 19, led 6-1 5-2 before Tsitsipas mounted a comeback and saved match points in the tiebreak, but Sinner clinched the decider as Tsitsipas racked up 58 unforced errors in the contest.
Sinner will next face Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who eased past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-1 6-0.
Earlier, top seed Novak Djokovic returned to winning ways after his US Open default, beating Italian wildcard Salvatore Caruso 6-3 6-2.
In the women’s section, top seed Simona Halep overcame a couple of hiccups in her first match to beat wildcard Jasmine Paolini 6-3 6-4 and move into the third round.
The 28-year-old Wimbledon champion has only lost twice this year but found herself a break down in both sets before she recovered to seal her first victory since winning the Prague Open a month ago.
World number two Halep, who had skipped the US Open due to Covid-19 concerns, looked sluggish at the Foro Italico with 14 winners offset by 15 unforced errors.
Second seed Karolina Pliskova started her title defence with a 6-3 6-3 win over Barbora Strycova, converting four break points and smashing 26 winners past her Czech compatriot.
Meanwhile, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka beat American Venus Williams 7-6(7) 6-2 to set up a second-round clash with third seed Sofia Kenin.