Nadal advances at Monte Carlo Masters
Monaco: Seven-time defending champion Rafael Nadal and top-ranked Novak Djokovic began their clay-court seasons with comfortable wins in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Wednesday.
Djokovic opened with a 6-1, 6-4 win against Andreas Seppi of Italy, while Nadal followed with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Jarkko Nieminen of Finland.
"I played a really normal match, nothing special. Nothing very bad, but nothing very good," said Nadal, who improved his overall record here to 40-1, including 38 straight wins. "First match on clay after long time without touching a racket."
Nadal`s last match was against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals. He pulled out of his semifinal against Andy Murray to get treatment for a knee tendon problem, having skipped a chunk of the season to rest his knees following the Australian Open.
Nadal broke Nieminen`s serve four times, and the Finn had a double-fault on match point.
The Spaniard next plays Kazakhstan`s Mikhail Kukushkin.
"I need practice, and today was a good practice," Nadal said. "Tomorrow (is) going to be another tough match against a player who is dangerous."
Since 2005, Nadal has won at Monte Carlo and Roland Garros every year except 2009.
Djokovic took a 4-0 lead after 19 minutes before Seppi rallied in the second set. But Djokovic closed out the match on serve to improve to 7-0 against Seppi.
"I haven`t played a match on a clay court since Roland Garros last year, so I`m happy with how I played," Djokovic said.
The Australian Open champion next plays Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, who had 11 aces in his 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 win against Australian Bernard Tomic.
Djokovic says to "expect the unexpected" with Dolgopolov.
"He`s a very talented player, comes up with some shots that are not really typical for a tennis player," Djokovic said. "He comes up with some drop shots, changes the pace very much. That`s why he`s very dangerous on clay."
The 23-year-old Dolgopolov is confident of causing an upset. Although he lost in straight sets to Djokovic in the fourth round of last year`s US Open, the Serb had to work hard to take a tight first set 7-6 (14).
"After that, I think I can compete with him," Dolgopolov said. "I mean, he`s No. 1, I`m No. 21. Obviously, he`s higher in the ranking. He`s playing more consistent. But I think I have my chances."
Also, Gilles Simon of France beat Frederico Gil of Portugal 6-3, 6-0 and awaited seventh-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia or Albert Montanes of Spain. Frenchman Julien Benneteau will play Andy Murray in the third round after beating Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-4, 6-3.