Rome – Spain's Rafael Nadal defeated Florian Mayer 6-1, 7-5 in his opening match Wednesday at the Rome Masters, where he is back on his beloved red clay after a miserable experience on the controversial blue courts of Madrid.
Nadal, whose ranking has fallen to No. 3 after an early-round loss at last week's Mutua Madrid Open and Roger Federer's run to the title there, was visibly eager to get into action at a tournament where he has shined in recent years.
The Spaniard was ruthlessly efficient in rolling to an easy first-set win over the German, dropping just three points on serve and winning nearly 60 percent of his return-game points as well.
Mayer put up a better fight in the second set, executing his trademark leaping backhand to good effect to put Nadal on the defensive at times.
But Nadal seized his chance late in the set to break serve and take a 6-5 lead and then, despite falling behind 0-30, serve out the match in the ensuing game.
In the post-match press conference, Nadal said he was pleased to come away with a fairly routine win against a tricky opponent who had defeated him in their only previous match, played last year in Shanghai.
"Today it was an important first set and I played aggressive," Nadal, a five-time winner of this event, said. "I felt good in the forehand. It's difficult to play against Mayer because he knows how to put you in a difficult position in the game, but I didn't suffer I think."
Nadal lost last week for the first time in 14 matches to countryman Fernando Verdasco and complained bitterly that the blue-clay courts used for the first time in Madrid were slippery and dangerous.
At this year's Rome event, he is looking to reclaim the title he ceded after losing in the 2011 final to Serbia's Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1.
Next up for Nadal on Thursday will be his good friend and fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers, who advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Italian Fabio Fognini.
In other second-round action Wednesday involving Spaniards, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez lost to Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and Nicolas Almagro defeated American Sam Querrey 7-5, 6-2.
Among the Argentine contingent, Juan Monaco set up a third-round match against Djokovic by defeating crafty Czech Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-2; Carlos Berlocq lost 6-3, 6-4 to Federer, the new world No. 2; and Juan Martin del Potro brushed aside Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-2.
The Rome Masters is one of the biggest clay-court events on the ATP calendar and the last big tune-up for the French Open, which gets underway later this month.