MADRID: Rafael Nadal enjoyed a winning return after a six-week injury break, opening his Madrid campaign with a 6-1, 7-6(7/4) success over Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic on Wednesday.
The Spanish star had been sidelined with a rib injury since his Indian Wells final defeat in March but showed little sign of rust as he skipped into the third round.
Nadal said his preparation for the tournament was "non-existent" due to his rib problem limiting his ability to train and was thrilled by how well he played against one of the most in-form players of the season.
"Today I was able to play one hour, 55 minutes against an opponent that was playing really well in these last months, so a really good victory, a lot of value to it," said the 35-year-old Mallorcan.
"It helps me a lot to reach my final goal, which is to recover my previous health and previous fitness. I'm very excited about it."
The 22-year-old Kecmanovic entered the match carrying the second-highest tally of wins on tour this season -- his 23 victories placing him just one behind Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Carlos Alcaraz.
Nadal, a three-time title winner in 2022, improved to 21-1 for the year and now plays Belgian qualifier David Goffin.
After a fairly routine opening set and a brief rain delay, Nadal faced significant resistance from the world number 32, who was broken in game five of the second set but struck back immediately as he started to find his range from the baseline.
Nadal found an opening at 5-5 and broke on his first opportunity, thanks to a long backhand from Kecmanovic. The number three seed could not serve out the win though, dropping serve as Kecmanovic forced a tie-break.
The pair were neck and neck, gifting each other mini-breaks before Nadal finally secured the win in just under two hours with an ace.
Second-seeded Alexander Zverev began his title defence with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over former US Open champion Marin Cilic.
The German is a two-time Madrid champion and now owns a 16-2 win-loss record at the Caja Magica.
Fourth seed Tsitsipas beat French wildcard Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-4, while Jannik Sinner and Felix Auger-Aliassime both won in straight sets.
British ninth seed Cameron Norrie edged past John Isner 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 to advance to a last-16 clash with teenage star Alcaraz, but fifth seed Casper Ruud lost in three sets to Dusan Lajovic.
In women's section, 12th seed Jessica Pegula eliminated Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-2. Her next opponent is Jil Teichmann, the Swiss who defeated Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina 6-3, 6-4. -- AFP
ATP/WTA Madrid Open results
Men (second round)
Hubert Hurkacz (POL x12) bt Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ESP) 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5); Dusan Lajovic (SRB) bt Casper Ruud (NOR x5) 7-6 (9/7), 2-6, 6-4; Rafael Nadal (ESP x3) bt Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB) 6-1, 7-6 (7/4); David Goffin (BEL) bt Botic van de Zandschulp (NED) 6-4, 6-2; Cameron Norrie (GBR x9) bt John Isner (USA) 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4; Dan Evans (GBR) bt Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x17) 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7/2); Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) bt Diego Schwartzman (ARG x13) 6-0, 6-3; Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE x4) bt Lucas Pouille (FRA) 6-3, 6-4; Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN x8) bt Cristian Garin (CHI) 6-3, 6-0; Jannik Sinner (ITA x10) bt Alex de Minaur (AUS) 6-4, 6-1; Lorenzo Musetti (ITA) bt Sebastian Korda (USA) 6-4, 6-3; Alexander Zverev (GER x2) bt Marin Cilic (CRO) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Jil Teichmann (SUI) bt Anhelina Kalinina (UKR) 6-3, 6-4; Jessica Pegula (USA x12) bt Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-4, 6-2; Ekaterina Alexandrova bt Amanda Anisimova (USA) 6-4, 6-3; Ons Jabeur (TUN x8) bt Simona Halep (ROM) 6-3, 6-2