RAFA Nadal avoided a similar fate to beaten world No1 Novak Djokovic when he dismissed French young gun Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-4 to claim a place in the third round of the Madrid Open yesterday.
Serb Djokovic fell to another promising youngster, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, in the second round of the Masters event on Tuesday but Nadal showed why he has the best record on clay in the pro era with a clinical display.
The Spanish world No 5, who has won four titles since his return from a seven-month injury lay-off in February, delighted the home support with some brilliant shotmaking.
He broke the 23-year-old Paire once in each set and will meet compatriot Nicolas Almagro, the 11th seed, or unseeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny for a place in the last eight.
“I am taking things day by day and I don’t know if I am in perfect shape or not,” said Nadal, who could meet great rival Roger Federer in the semi-finals. “The important thing is that I am here in Madrid competing again after seven months out injured.”
Sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych had to come back from a set down to get past Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, while Japanese 14th seed Kei Nishikori ousted Viktor Troiki of Serbia 7-5, 6-2.
In a match dubbed “the battle of the veteran Tommies”, 13th-seeded German Tommy Haas, 35, continued his winning run after his victory at the Munich event at the weekend with a 6-3, 7-5 second-round success against 31-year-old Spaniard Tommy Robredo.
Andy Murray plays his third-round match against France’s world No 16 Gilles Simon today.
In the women’s event, Victoria Azarenka lost her temper and was docked a point for smashing her racket on the way to a surprise 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 defeat by unseeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the second round.
The Belarusian world No3, runner-up in the last two editions of the biggest clay event outside the French Open and coming back from an injury layoff, appeared firmly in control against her 24th-ranked opponent after cruising through the first set. However, Makarova raised her game to take the second set and after Azarenka smashed her racket on the ground at 3-3 in the decider the Australian Open champion’s game fell apart and she suffered her first defeat of the year.
The umpire had already warned Azarenka at the end of the first set and when she took out her frustration on her racket she was given a point penalty.
“I just felt it was a weird call for me because I had no idea I had a code violation,” said the 23-year-old. “But it happened. It didn’t help, for sure, but it’s okay. It’s my own fault.”
Playing in her first event since her withdrawal at Indian Wells in March due to an ankle injury, Azarenka vowed to get back on the practice court before heading to play in Rome as she continues her build-up to the French Open starting at the end of this month.
“I have been doing mistakes that I don’t do but that’s what comes after not playing for a long time. So I still have another tournament before the French Open to compete in and I’m going to go back on the practice court as I always do and work hard to improve.”
Makarova, who will play 14th-seeded Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in the third round, had beaten Azarenka once in four previous attempts, a 7-6, 6-4 success in the final of the Eastbourne grass court tournament in England in 2010.
She now has seven career wins against top ten opponents but Azarenka is her highest-ranked victim. “It was really tough in the first set. I didn’t play as good as I wanted and I was a little bit angry,” Makarova said. “I don’t really like to play against her because it’s always tough, but I wanted to move her around the court as much as possible and in the second and third sets it worked.”