INDIAN WELLS, California, Mar. 13 (AFP) – Reigning champion Rafael Nadal, playing his first match in more than a month, reached the third round of the BNP Paribas Open Saturday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Rainer Schuettler.
|Rafael Nadal, playing his first match since retiring injured from the Australian Open, launched his Indian Wells title defence Saturday with a straight-set win over Rainer Schuettler. AFP photo|
Nadal hadn't played since retiring with a right knee injury while trailing Andy Murray by two sets in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January.
Nadal's victory over Schuettler offered little opportunity to gauge his game given the chilly, windy conditions that prevailed as darkness fell in the California desert.
"When I went to practice in the morning, it was perfect conditions," Nadal said. "And when I went on court, the weather completely changed, so it was difficult to adapt."
Nadal, who sped to a 5-1 lead with two breaks of serve in the opening set, then lost three games in a row before closing out the set.
He needed only one break of serve, in the seventh game, and didn't face a break point in the second frame as he closed out the match.
Nadal said he felt comfortable on his forehand, but had particular trouble with the wind behind him on his backhand.
"I feel if I only touch the ball, the ball was out," said Nadal, who was pleased to get the victory under his belt.
"The only thing is try to win the match, play acceptable, and I did."
Nadal next faces Croatian Mario Ancic, a 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 winner over France's Julien Benneteau.
Ancic, a 2004 Wimbledon semi-finalist, missed most of last year after being diagnosed with mononucleosis that had first been diagnosed as a bad flu in 2008.
Serbian Novak Djokovic, seeded second behind Roger Federer in the first Masters 1000 tournament of 2010, survived some erratic play to emerge with a 6-1, 0-6, 6-2 victory over American Mardy Fish -- the man Djokovic beat in the final here in 2008.
Djokovic blazed through the first set in 39 minutes -- then dropped the second in just 28.
"I had a terrible start," Djokovic said of the second set. "Mardy played some good points, I made a lot of unforced errors."
The Serbian managed to gain the upper hand in the third with a break for a 2-1 lead, then broke again with a stinging forehand winner in the seventh game for a 5-2 lead.
He had to save a break point in the next game before closing out the last match of the night.
"I was very lucky that I pulled it out in the end," said Djokovic, who said the late hour, cold night air and lingering effects of jet-lag all affected him.
Among other seeded men advancing to the third round Saturday after all 32 enjoyed first-round byes, fifth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko defeated Latvia's Ernests Gulbis 6-4, 6-4.
Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez ousted eighth-seeded Croatian Marin Cilic 7-6 (7/1), 6-0, but Spanish 10th seed Fernando Verdasco made it safely through.
Verdasco, who won his fourth career ATP title last month in San Jose, booked his third-round berth with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Paraguayan qualifier Ramon Delgado.
On the women's side, top-seeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova fell at her first hurdle as Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro downed the world number three 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
It was the second straight year that Kuznetsova lost in the second round at Indian Wells, a tournament where she has had two runner-up finishes but never won.
Suarez Navarro, ranked 42nd in the world, called her 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 triumph over the world number three "one of the most important matches of my life," but it was clear Kuznetsova was well off the form that saw her capture the French Open last year.
Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus made it safely through, beating Austrian Sybille Bammer 6-1, 7-5. Eighth-seeded Australian Samantha Stosur beat France's J Coin 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), while 12th-seeded defending champion Vera Zvonareva fended off the spirited challenge of US teenager Sloane Stephens 6-4, 7-5.
Sixth-seeded Serbian Jelena Jankovic beat Croatian qualifier Petra Martic 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), but compatriot Ana Ivanovic, titlist here in 2008, fell 6-2, 6-4 to Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova.
Belgian Kim Clijsters booked a third-round berth with a brisk 6-2, 6-1 victory over Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.