Nadal secured a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1 win over Roberto Bautista Agut on Wednesday, kicking off his quest for a 12th title in the Principality in staggering fashion. He needed 77 minutes to dismiss his countryman.
It was exactly one month ago that the Spaniard withdrew from the BNP Paribas Open due to a right knee injury, ahead of a semi-final clash with Roger Federer. He would also pull out of the Miami Open presented by Itau the following week. But, back on his favourite surface and in the familiar confines of Court Rainier III, where he has lifted the trophy 11 times, Nadal barely put a foot wrong.
The World No. 2 was a defensive demon and attacked with aplomb, using his agility to rattle Bautista Agut and not allow his countryman to find his rhythm. While Nadal admits that he is still not without pain in his knee, he believes there are many encouraging signs from his first match back.
“This is just the first match and it has been a very positive start,” Nadal told the assembled media at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. “The results say that. And the feeling on court, too. I can’t tell you if I found my great rhythm. This is not the case. I just started well. It is the first match in almost a year on this surface.
“I can’t pretend that I don’t have pain at all, because I never thought about that. It’s a long time ago that professional players play normally with pain, because that’s part of the sport at the highest level. So I was able to move well and be confident with the things that I did. I’m happy for this very positive start.”
Nadal will look to extend his unprecedented match wins haul in Monte-Carlo to 70 when he faces Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday. No other player has won as many matches at a single ATP Masters 1000 event.
It marks the second straight year Nadal and Dimitrov will meet in the Principality, following the second seed’s dominant 6-4, 6-1 semi-final victory in 2018. Moreover, he owns an 11-1 edge in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, having conceded just one set in four matches on clay.
“Of course a start like this helps. Tomorrow is another good test against Grigor, so let’s see,” Nadal added. “I need to play well again. What I need is to play matches, spend more hours on court, and of course the victories help. Every victory brings a positive energy, confidence in the game, confidence in the body. And that’s what I need today. Today was a good start. Let’s try to continue well tomorrow.
“When you come back to this place, the first thing I think is the history is amazing. All the great champions have been playing here. A lot of them winning. For me it is just an honour to play this event.”
Sixteen years later, Nadal’s love affair with the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters is as strong as ever. He has played 73 matches in total at the ATP Masters 1000 event, but the Spaniard still remembers his first. In 2003, a promising 16-year-old stepped on the courts of the Monte-Carlo Country Club for the first time, and he would produce a highly auspicious start.
“I was 16, in my first match in the main draw, of course I remember against Kucera,” Nadal said of his 6-1, 6-2 win over Karol Kucera in his tournament debut. “And against Albert Costa, of course I remember the match very well. It was late. At the beginning I think he felt confident that he was dominating me. But at some point, you get closer to the end and it was not easy to play against a very young player like I was in that moment, and he was a little bit more nervous. I played a good match and I was able to find a way.”
Nadal will next face Dimitrov on Thursday on Court Rainier III. It will be the third match on, with play beginning at 11am.