Nadal ruthless in Rome, Halep and Azarenka win

  • Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal did not take long searching for his clay-court form as he resumed his season in impressive style at the Rome Masters.

Playing his first match in more than six months, the world No.2 demolished recent US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1 6-1 at the Foro Italico.

SCORES: Day 3 results in Rome

Other winners on Wednesday were world No.1 Novak Djokovic, women’s top seed Simona Halep and last week’s US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka.

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova and two-time Rome winner Elina Svitolina also advanced, but men’s No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas fell in three sets to teenage wildcard Jannik Sinner.

Rafa routs compatriot

Nadal was dominant on both serve and return as he broke his fellow Spaniard five times en route to victory in 73 minutes, taking his head-to-head record over Carreno Busta to 6-0.

Nadal’s last competitive outing came on 1 March, when he beat Taylor Fritz in the final of the ATP hard-court tournament in Acapulco.

“Have been today a very positive comeback. I played a very solid match,” said Nadal, who will look to extend his six-match winning streak against either Milos Raonic or Dusan Lajovic.

“Maybe Pablo was a little bit tired from a great tournament there in New York, but thinking about myself, I played a very solid match and very serious and doing a lot of things very well, no? 

“So very happy.”

Djokovic resets in Rome

Nadal remains on course for a sixth final meeting in Rome against Djokovic, the top seed, who kicked off his campaign with a 6-3 6-2 win over Italian wildcard Salvatore Caruso.

In his first match since being defaulted in the fourth round of the US Open, Djokovic cruised to his 27th win from 28 matches in 2020.

Novak Djokovic, who lost in last year's Rome final to Rafael Nadal, is seeking his first title in the Italian capital since 2015. (Getty Images)

Djokovic, a four-time champion in Rome, next faces fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic for a place in the quarterfinals. 

“It was a very good test for me. I’m very pleased with the way I handled myself in important moments. Everything went well,” Djokovic said.

Halep, Azarenka continue winning ways

Women’s top seed Simona Halep took her place in the last 16, recovering from a break down in both sets to record a 6-3 6-4 win over Italian Jasmine Paolini.

Halep, who has remained on clay following the sport’s resumption and skipped the US Open, was a champion at the WTA event in Prague in mid-August. 

She took her winning streak to 10 matches thanks to victory over the world No.99 Paolini on Wednesday, and next faces Dayana Yastremska, who beat Amanda Anisimova in three sets.

Another in-form winner was Azarenka, who saved a set point to beat Venus Williams 7-6(7) 6-2 in the last of Rome’s first-round matches.

Azarenka resumed her season as the world No.58 in Lexington, where she fell to Williams in the opening round.

She has since won 12 of her next 13 matches – claiming the Western & Southern Open title and advancing to the US Open final – and improved her ranking to 14th.

She next faces third seed Sofia Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion.