Competing for the first time in six and a half months, world no. 2 and nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal defeated Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1 in 73 minutes. The US Open semi-finalist couldn't stay in contention against the most formidable rival on clay, propelling Rafa towards the 385th Masters 1000 victory and 437th on clay.
Nadal didn't know what to expect in his first match after such a long break, but there was nothing to worry about after finding the right rhythm on serve and return that carried him towards the finish line. It was their sixth encounter and the sixth victory for Rafa, who served at only 49% but still lost eight points behind the initial shot, fending off one break chance and stealing the opponent's serve five times.
Rafa dropped five points on serve in the opener, four of those in the first game when he fended off a break point to avoid an early setback. Everything else worked fine for the nine-time winner, hitting nine winners and seven unforced errors and drawing 13 unforced mistakes from Pablo.
Rafa had a massive 16-5 advantage in the more extended exchanges, settling into an excellent rhythm to leave the rival behind and settle into a strong rhythm. From 40-0 in the first game, Nadal had to play against a break point, erasing it with a powerful serve and putting his name on the scoreboard when Carreno Busta sprayed a backhand error.
Rafael Nadal made a strong start in Rome against Pablo Carreno Busta.
Pablo forced Rafa's mistake in the second game to fend off a break chance and level the score at 1-1 before Nadal produced a hold at love with a service winner to open another lead.
Carreno Busta wasted a game point at 1-2 and suffered a break after a backhand crosscourt winner from Nadal, who held at 15 with another backhand winner to cement the advantage. Carreno Busta placed a backhand long to suffer a break at love in game six and find himself 5-1 down, allowing Rafa to wrap up the set with a hold at love following an ace.
Serving in the second set's first game, Pablo fended off two break chances with winners to stay in touch, followed by another commanding hold from the more experienced Spaniard for 1-1. Nadal created a break chance in the third game with a forehand winner, closing it with a volley winner at the net for a set and a break advantage.
The nine-time champion held after deuce to move 3-1 in front and grabbed another break when Pablo hit a forehand wide. A backhand winner earned the sixth game for Rafa, and he was over the top after the third straight break, making an impressive start after not playing since the end of February.