Roger Federer was happier than eight-times champion Rafael Nadal after they both enjoyed straight-sets wins to reach the Monte Carlo Masters third round.
Federer took just 52 minutes to beat veteran Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-2, while Nadal overcame a rusty start to finally put away Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-4, 6-1.
Top seed Nadal, who lost the title to Novak Djokovic last year, dropped his opening service game and trailed 3-1 in the first set. But, from 4-4, the Spaniard reeled off six straight games, then the Russian qualifier broke his serve again.
Nadal’s body language suggested he was far from happy with his performance. At times he looked glum-faced, other times annoyed with his shots. His serve was vulnerable, too, as he conceded four break-point chances – including in consecutive service games during the second set. He clinched victory with a crisp forehand winner.
Federer, returning to the tournament for the first time since 2011, was far more ruthless as he raced to a 5-0 lead in 17 minutes. He improved his record against the 35-year-old Stepanek to 14-2. The Czech has not beaten Federer in six years. Federer said: “A bit surprised how well it went. On clay, when you have the upper hand from the baseline, it’s kind of hard to get out of it.
“That’s kind of how it was for Radek. I had a good start to both sets, I was solid on my own service games. It was clearly a good match to start my clay-court campaign.”
Fourth seed Federer next plays another Czech, Lukas Rosol, who beat Frenchman Michael Llodra 6-4, 6-4, while Nadal plays Italian Andreas Seppi, who won 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-4 against Spaniard Pablo Andujar.
Federer has never won the Monte Carlo event, losing in three finals in a row to Nadal from 2006-08. They can’t meet again this year until the final.
Eighth-seeded Milos Raonic, of Canada, No 10 Fabio Fognini, of Italy, and No 11 Tommy Robredo, of Spain, also advanced to the third round. Raonic rallied to beat Lu Yen-Hsun, of Taiwan, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-1, Fognini beat Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 and Robredo won 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 against Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
Meanwhile, British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray believes Laura Robson cannot be too careful with the wrist injury which has blighted her season.
Robson has completed just one match in 2014, losing 6-3, 6-0 to Kirsten Flipkens in the first round of the Australian Open, having retired hurt from her opening match in the warm-up event in Hobart. The Australia-born 20-year-old has pulled out of tournaments in Morocco next week and Madrid on 3 May, raising doubts about her participation in the French Open and Wimbledon.
“I’m not sure when she’s going to be back,” Murray said of the world No 64. “You have to be careful with wrist injuries. She has not played since the Australian Open so she will be anxious to get back playing, but you can’t rush that kind of injury. Psychologically, it’s a difficult one because everything in tennis goes through your wrist.”
The injury has come at a bad time for the former Wimbledon junior champion, who achieved a career-high ranking of 27th.
“The left-hander, who won a silver medal with Andy Murray at the London Olympics in 2012, was ranked 46th at the end of 2013.