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Nadal opens clay season with easy win

MONACO — Back on his favorite surface, Rafael Nadal showed no lingering effects of a recent injury as he breezed into the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters Wednesday with a 6-1, 6-1 win against Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal was making his season debut on clay and playing his first match since suffering a knee injury at Indian Wells one month ago, but the defending champion looked sharp from the start and secured an early break of serve for 2-0.

Aside from having to save five break points across two games — at 0-40 down in the fourth game and at 15-40 in the sixth — Nadal was otherwise untroubled by his Spanish countryman. The 17-time Grand Slam champion converted his first match point when he met his opponent’s strong forehand with a crisp volley at the net.

“I was able to move well and be confident in the things that I did,” Nadal, 32, said. “Now what I need is to play matches, spend hours on court, and of course the victories help. Every victory is a positive energy, confidence in the game, confidence in the body. Today was a good start.”

Nadal is looking to win the clay-court tournament for a record-extending 12th time and increase his Masters record to 34 titles. He next plays Grigor Dimitrov, whom he has beaten 11 times in 12 matches. One of Nadal’s wins against the unseeded Bulgarian was in last year’s semifinal.

Third-seeded Alexander Zverev, No. 4 Dominic Thiem, No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 10 Daniil Medvedev, and No. 13 Fabio Fognini also advanced to the third round. But No. 5 Kei Nishikori, who lost to Nadal in last year’s final, was beaten by Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-5, 6-4.

Zverev won 6-1, 6-4 against Felix Auger-Aliassime, breaking the 18-year-old Canadian’s serve six times, while French Open runner-up Thiem won by the same score against Martin Klizan.

Tsitsipas downed Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 7-5 and next faces Medvedev. The Russian beat Radu Albot 6-1, 6-2, while Fognini had a walkover after Gilles Simon pulled out with a back injury and next takes on Zverev.

There were also second-round wins for unseeded players Dimitrov, Taylor Fritz, Cameron Norrie, and Dusan Lajovic.

Fritz won 6-4, 6-2 against Diego Schwartzman and the 21-year-old American next plays top-ranked Novak Djokovic .

Norrie beat Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (3), 6-3, Dimitrov won 7-6 (2), 6-4 against Jan-Lennard Struff, and Lajovic upset No. 16 David Goffin of Belgium 6-3, 6-4.

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