In his first match since quitting the French Open nearly 10 weeks ago, Rafael Nadal showed no signs of discomfort in the torn tendons of his left wrist and was as imperious as ever in dismissing the world No43 Federico Delbonis in the first round of the 2016 Olympics tennis tournament.
The Spaniard, who has slipped one place to fifth in the world during his absence from competition, took a little under an hour and a half to dismiss the 25-year-old Argentinian clay-courter 6-2, 6-1 on the hardcourts of the new tennis complex in Rio.
Nadal had quietly expressed reservations about the surface beforehand, wondering, with some justification, why he was not playing on his favoured clay in a country where the red dirt is as common as in his native Spain. It did not seem to bother him, however.
Nadal was efficient rather than spectacular behind a rock-solid serve, although Delbonis was competitive when he got the opportunity and stretched his illustrious opponent in several exchanges early in the match. But the pressure told. Nadal had 16 break points and took six of them, enough to steadily break the resolve and focus of Delbonis, who has now won just 11 games in three matches against the former world No1.
Can Nadal make an impact here? If he were to reproduce this form deeper in the tournament – although he is on the same side of the draw as Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín del Potro, who were scheduled to meet later in the first round. And he will not need reminding that he began the French Open – where he has been champion nine times – with two blinding victories before a chronic complaint in his fabled left wrist forced him to retire to Mallorca. In recent weeks he has entertained Andy Murray among others on his practice courts there, and would seem to have arrived in Rio much improved in spirit and fitness.
Elsewhere on day one, the exciting Dustin Brown was a set up against the Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci when an ankle injury forced his retirement towards the end of the second set. David Ferrer, whose form over the past year has been mixed, breezed past Denis Istomin 6-2, 6-1 in just an hour and a quarter.
However, there is no denying the men’s draw looks a little shabby through the absence of so many of the game’s leading players, including Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka (who has leap-frogged Nadal to No4 in the world), Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios, who beat the American John Isner in Atlanta on Sunday.
Thus Brazil’s Roger Dutra Silva had his moment on the home stage, beating the Italian Thomas Fabbiano 7-6 (4), 6-1 in an hour and 22 minutes. David Goffin, restored to his best this year, took just two minutes longer to handily beat the Australian Sam Groth 6-4, 6-2.
With no disrespect, matches and scores such as those lend the competition the air of an ATP 500 event. Until the better players begin to work their way through the draw for tougher engagements, it will not seem properly like a top-level affair.
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