MONTECARLO.- Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal prevailed in his 2019 Monte Carlo Masters debut over his countryman Roberto Bautista Agut, the 6-1,6-1 win taking one hour and 16 minutes and placing him just one step away from his 70th career triumph in the French tourney.
Nadal, who has won the last three Monte Carlo tournaments in a row, started his title defense – in the main tournament which prepares him for the clay season – with an easy victory over his Spanish colleague.
Bautista has had success thus far in 2019, claiming the Qatar Open title in January at the expense of the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych in the final after knocking out Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the ATP ranking No. 1, in the semis.
With a current balance of 69 wins and only four defeats at Monte Carlo, Nadal is set to play Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in the round of 16, the latter having gotten past German Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.
Nadal, 32, also kept his unbeaten record against Bautista, having won all three of their career matches thus far, in his first competition after withdrawing from the Indian Wells Masters on March 16 because of a right knee injury just before his much-anticipated semifinals match against arch-rival Roger Federer.
Nadal maintained his authority over the match at the Rainier III court right from the start, winning the first five games in a row and breaking Bautista’s serve twice, only allowing his countryman to win the sixth game and sealing the first set 6-1 in 32 minutes.
In the second set, Bautista lost his first service again but won the second for a 2-1 deficit, whereupon Nadal returned to break his opponent’s last two serves for another 6-1 win that he claimed in 44 minutes.
Despite committing three double faults during the match, Nadal managed to seal the victory after earning five out of eight break points, while Bautista lost all of his five break points.
In other Monte Carlo action Wednesday, France’s Pierre Hugues Herbert ousted Kei Nishikori of Japan (7-5, 6-4), to set up a quarters’ encounter vs. Croatia’s Borna Coric, who eliminated Jaume Munar of Spain in a grueling 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 contest.
The other Frenchman, Gilles Simon, suffered back discomfort before his match which gave Italy’s Fabio Fognini a free pass to the last-eight round, where he is set to face off against Alexander Zverev of Germany.
Zverev advanced to the quarters after knocking the 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime out of the French tourney with a 6-1, 6-4 victory.
Greek tennis pro Stefanos Tsitsipas also booked a place in the last-eight with his 6-3, 7-5 win over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, and he is now set to clash with Russian star Daniil Medvedev, who prevailed 6-1, 6-2 over Moldova’s Radu Albot.
In matches still remaining to be played in the last-16 round, Briton Cameron Norrie is to play Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego, Taylor Fritz of the United States squares off against Djokovic and Austria’s Dominic Thiem is to play Dusan Lajovic of Serbia.