Competing for the first time in six and a half months, world no. 2 and nine-time Rome winner Rafael Nadal toppled Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1 in 73 minutes. The US Open semi-finalist couldn't stay in contention against the toughest possible 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, finding the right rhythm on serve and return to sail towards the finish line. It was their sixth encounter and the sixth victory for Rafa, who will now face Dusan Lajovic or Milos Raonic.
Serving at only 49%, Nadal lost eight points behind the initial shot, fending off one break point and stealing the opponent's serve five times to control the scoreboard. Rafa dropped five points on serve in the opening set, four of those in the first game when he saved 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 longer exchanges, settling into an excellent rhythm to leave the rival behind.
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. Pablo forced an error from Rafa 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 gain another lead.
Carreno Busta wasted a game point in the fourth game, suffering a break after a backhand crosscourt winner from Nadal, who held at 15 with another backhand winner to cement the advantage.
Rafael Nadal defeated Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1 in Rome.
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 after an ace.
Serving in the first game of the second set, Pablo fended off two break chances with winners to stay in touch, followed by another commanding hold from the 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 lead.
The nine-time champion held after deuce to move 3-1 in front, clinching another break when Pablo hit a forehand wide to move closer to the finish line. A backhand winner earned the sixth game for Rafa and he was over the top after the third straight break, making an impressive start and hoping to defend the title next Monday.