ATP Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal returns to beloved clay in style

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ATP Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal returns to beloved clay in style

World no. 2 and the 11-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal has made a stellar comeback to his beloved clay, toppling the fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-1 in an hour and 16 minutes for the 69th win in the Principality from 73 matches.

Entering only the fourth tournament of the season after injuries that prevented him from showing more in the first three months of the new season, Rafa is comfortable again on the slowest surface, losing just 15 points on serve and fending off all five break points.

The pressure was on Bautista Agut all the time and a player who defeated Novak Djokovic twice this season stood no chance against the strongest possible rival on the dirt, dropping almost 60% of the points in his games and getting broken five times from eight opportunities he offered to Rafa.

Hitting 16 winners and 16 unforced errors, Nadal controlled the pace of the scoreboard, covering the court beautifully and always forcing Roberto to go for an extra shot and those risky strokes that caused only three winners and 20 unforced errors.

Rafa won 40 of 67 points in the shortest and mid-range segment, dominating 14-3 in the most extended rallies to leave the rival far behind and cross the finish line. The 2nd seed kicked off the match with a hold at 15, breaking Bautista Agut in the next game and opening a 4-0 lead with a perfect short forehand winner after just 16 minutes.

The opening set was over after 32 minutes after a nice hold from Rafa who kicked off the second part of the match with another break when Roberto netted a forehand. Bautista Agut finally created some damage on the return in game four, creating three break chances that Rafa repelled to remain in front, clinching another break in game five following another forehand mistake from Bautista Agut and saving two break points at 4-1 to move closer to the finish line.

A volley winner sealed another break and the match for Nadal in game seven, racing into the third round where he will face Grigor Dimitrov or Jan-Lennard Struff.