Italian Open: Nadal makes winning start in Rome, Tsitsipas out

Nadal, who received a bye into the second round, has not played a tournament since winning his 85th singles title in Acapulco.

Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Pablo Carreno Busta during their second round match, at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome.   -  AP

Nine-times champion Rafa Nadal showed little signs of rust when he played his first match in 200 days as he beat fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1 in the Italian Open in Rome on Wednesday.

Nadal, who received a bye into the second round, has not played a tournament since winning his 85th singles title in Acapulco, having skipped the Western & Southern Open and the US Open in New York due to COVID-19 concerns.

The match was also Nadal's first on clay in 465 days after his French Open triumph last year and the 34-year-old Spaniard sent an ominous message to the field as he dominated the US Open semifinalist from start at an empty Foro Italico.

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“It's good to be back on the Tour but obviously the feeling is not the best playing without crowds,” Nadal said. “At least there's one positive thing, the sport is back."

Nadal broke in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead and did not look back, winning the last 10 points in the opening set to put down a marker for Carreno Busta who struggled with the pace of the ball on clay after two hardcourt tournaments.

The second set was more of the same as a visibly jumpy Nadal could not wait to get going between games and the world number two wrapped up the match in 73 minutes with 20 winners while Carreno Busta made 28 unforced errors.

“I played a good match, maybe he was a little bit tired from New York (where) he played an amazing tournament,” Nadal added. “It's a perfect start for me, I played solid, some good shots with the forehand and backhand.”

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Italian wildcard Jannik Sinner pulled off a stunning upset in the second round when he beat third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-7(9), 6-2 to take revenge on the Greek who beat him in straight sets at the same stage last year.

Sinner, 19, led 6-1, 5-2 before Tsitsipas mounted a comeback and saved match points in the tiebreak, but Sinner clinched the decider as Tsitsipas racked up 58 unforced errors in the contest.

Sinner will next face Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who eased past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-1, 6-0.

Earlier, top seed Novak Djokovic returned to winning ways after his US Open default, beating Italian wildcard Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2.

Pliskova, Azarenka register wins

Second seed Karolina Pliskova started her title defence with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Barbora Strycova, converting four break points and smashing 26 winners past her Czech compatriot.

Meanwhile, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka beat American Venus Williams 7-6(7), 6-2 to set up a second-round clash with third seed Sofia Kenin.

After winning the Western & Southern Open last month and losing the US Open final in New York over the weekend, Azarenka had no problems switching from hardcourt to clay in just four days.

“Different surface was definitely challenging but I feel like I adapted very well,” Azarenka said. “I felt that this was a great match for me to figure it out, the first match on clay."

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