Competing for the first time since the end of February, world no. 2 and nine-time Rome winner Rafael Nadal toppled Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1 in 73 minutes in the second round. The US Open semi-finalist couldn't stay in contention against the most challenging rival on clay, propelling Rafa towards the 385th Masters 1000 victory and suffering the sixth loss from as many matches against the 19-time Major winner.
Nadal didn't know what to expect in his first match after such a long break, but there was nothing wrong with his tennis, finding the rhythm on both serve and return to sail towards the finish line. Serving at only 49%, Rafa dropped eight points behind the initial shot, fending off one break point and stealing the opponent's serve five times for the upper hand.
The defending champion handed five points on serve in the opening set, four of those in the first game when he saved that break point to avoid an early setback. Everything else worked fine for him, 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, swinging from both wings to leave Pablo behind. From 40-0 in the first game, Nadal had to play against a break chance, erasing it with a powerful serve and putting his name on the scoreboard when Carreno Busta sprayed a backhand error.
Pablo forced Rafa to make a mistake in the second game to fend off a break chance and level the score at 1-1, followed by Nadal who held at love with a service winner to earn another lead. Carreno Busta wasted a game point at 1-2, suffering a break after a backhand crosscourt winner from Nadal, who cemented the advantage with a hold at 15.
Rafael Nadal defeated Pablo Carreno Busta in front of no spectators in Rome.
The younger Spaniard placed a backhand long to suffer a break at love in game six and fall 5-1 behind, allowing Rafa to wrap up the set with a hold at love thanks to an ace.
Pablo fended off two break chances with winners in the second set's opening game, followed by another commanding hold from the more experienced Spaniard to lock the result at 1-1. Nadal created a break chance in the third game with a forehand winner, closing it with a volley winner at the net to move a set and a break in front.
The nine-time champion held after deuce to open a 3-1 gap, clinching another break when Pablo hit a forehand wide and moving closer to the finish line. A backhand winner earned the sixth game for Rafa, who emerged as the winner after the third straight break, making an impressive start after not competing for more than half a year.
"It felt good to go out there and compete again. Still, I miss the crowd at Foro Italico; it's impossible to describe the energy you receive from the spectators. I made a positive comeback, playing a solid match and doing everything right on the court. I'm very happy with my performance," Rafael Nadal said.