MADRID: Fourteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal stretched his perfect start to the European clay-court season to 11 matches with a routine 6-3, 6-3 win over Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov to reach round three of the Madrid Masters on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Defending champion Andy Murray began his defense of the title with a 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-1 win over 37-year-old Czech Radek Stepanek to remain on course for a semifinals meeting with Nadal.
Fresh from victories in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Nadal will continue his quest for a fifth title in Madrid against American Sam Querrey or France’s Lucas Pouille on Thursday.
Nadal is looking for a record 50th career clay-court title in the Spanish capital and was rarely troubled by the world number 39 Kuznetsov.
The Spaniard raced into a 3-0 first-set lead and one break was enough to seal the set as he staved off break points in the fourth game.
Kuznetsov made a more positive strt to the second to lead 3-2, but was blown away as Nadal, ominously for his rivals later in the week, found his rhythm to win the last four games.
Nadal’s path to the final was ased as his potential quarterfinals opponent Roger Federer withdrew due to a back injury on Monday.
However, he could face Murray in the last four in a repeat of last year’s final.
Murray needed three sets to overcome Stepanek, but eventually got the job done in just under two-and-a-half hours on court.
Eleventh seed Milos Raonic also booked his place in the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-2 win over Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov.
World number one Novak Djokovic begins his campaign after a three-year absence in Madrid on Wednesday against Borna Coric.
Frenchman Gael Monfils continued his fine form after losing to Nadal in the final of Monte Carlo last month as he saw off Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-1.
Controversial Australian Nick Kyrgios set up an enticing second-round clash with fourth seed Stanislas Wawrinka as he battled past Argentine Guido Pella 7-6 (9/7), 6-4.
A dreadful week for Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov continued as he exited in the first round 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to Pablo Carreno Busta two days after defaulting in the final of the Istanbul Open for a racquet-smashing tirade.
And former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro scored an impressive 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 win over in-form 14th seed Dominic Thiem.
In the women’s Madrid Open there was a better day for the favorites after a series of high-profile exits left just five seeds left in the draw.
World number seven Simona Halep thrashed Karin Knapp 6-1, 6-1 to set up a third-round clash with Timea Bacsinszky as the 10th seed overcame Ekaterina Makarova 6-4. 5-7, 6-4.
Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro booked her place in the last 16 with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Germany’s Sabine Lisicki.
Sam Stosur and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also reached the third round without having to hit a ball as 11th seed Lucie Safarova and Camila Giorgi withdrew.