BEIJING: Rafael Nadal made an emphatic return to singles competition Tuesday after being sidelined for three months, sweeping aside Richard Gasquet of France in the $5.4 million China Open.
The 14-times Grand Slam winner won his first round match in Beijing 6-4, 6-0, overcoming sporadic resistance in the first set before crushing his 22nd-ranked opponent in the second.
There were glimpses of vintage Nadal during the second set demolition, with the Spaniard appearing to be back to his athletic best after being sidelined since Wimbledon with a right wrist injury picked up in training.
“It’s not hundred percent, but let’s say 90 something percent,” Nadal said, when asked how his wrist felt during the match.
The world number three broke his 28-year-old opponent’s serve in the third game, and while Gasquet brought Nadal to break-point at the next two opportunities, he failed to claw his way back into the set.
Gasquet lost his serve at the opening game of the second set, and then brought Nadal to the brink of losing his own with some acrobatic net-play.
But that turned out to be his last show of defiance as the French Open champion powered his way to a “bagel” in his return to singles competition.
“I have to be happy the way that I played,” Nadal said.
“Three months without a match, winning against a player who is a good player like Richard, is a very positive comeback for me.”
The left-handed Mallorcan played a rare doubles match in Beijing on Monday, which he lost.
Nadal joins top seed Novak Djokovic in the second round after the reigning champion in Beijing won his game after a shaky start.
The Serb defeated Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-2, 6-1 in just 63 minutes, but took a while to get into his stride, trading a series of serves with his opponent early on.
Djokovic will face Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the next round as he bids for his fifth title in Beijing, a tournament he has won every year since 2009, apart from 2011 when he did not take part.
The winner that year, world number six Tomas Berdych, eased past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-2 in his first round match.
The third seed Czech is chasing points as he pushes to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in November.
He is currently eighth in the race for the London tournament and must at least remain in that position if he is to make the season finale of the top eight players.
Only five berths are available as the world’s top three players — Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer — have already confirmed their place for London.
Elsewhere in the men’s competition, eighth seed American John Isner beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-1, 6-3.
Andy Murray also made it through after a tense match in which he smashed his racket as he lost a first set tie-break.
The 27-year-old Scot, the sixth seed in Beijing, defeated Jerzy Janowicz of Poland 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 6-2.
In the women’s tournament, world number one American Serena Williams eased into the third round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova.
Meanwhile, Serena’s sister Venus gained revenge over Caroline Garcia after the 20-year-old won their first round match at the Wuhan Open last week.
Thirty-four-year-old Williams beat the French rising star 6-4, 6-3 in Beijing.
Maria Sharapova was facing a potential banana skin in her match with Elina Svitolina following the Ukranian’s confidence-boosting appearance in the Wuhan semi-finals.
But the Russian world number four powered through with a 6-2, 6-2 scoreline.
Fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, meanwhile, has now failed to get past the second round in her last two tournaments in China, losing to Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-4, 6-4 in Beijing.
Radwanska was hoping for a deep run at the China Open to seal her place in next month’s WTA Finals, the season-ending finale in Singapore featuring the world’s top eight women players.
The Pole was last week dumped out of Wuhan in the second round.
Eighth seed Canadian Eugenie Bouchard — the runner-up in Wuhan — also crashed out of the tournament, losing to Germany’s Sabine Lisicki 6-2, 6-4.
But there was no upset for second seed Romanian Simona Halep who defeated home-crowd favourite Zhu Lin 7-5, 6-4.
The China Open is being held at the Olympic Park in the Chinese capital and will reach its climax on October 5.