BEIJING (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal enjoyed an emphatic return to singles action as he powered past Richard Gasquet at the China Open on Tuesday, while world number one Novak Djokovic overcame a sluggish start to continue his perfect run in Beijing.
Spanish world number two Nadal, playing his first singles match in three months due to a wrist injury, extended his record to 13-0 against the Frenchman with a brisk 6-4 6-0 win after Djokovic had beaten Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2 6-1.
Briton Andy Murray also maintained his good form in China but was made to dig deep before grinding out a 6-7(9) 6-4 6-2 victory over Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz in a night match.
An early break for Nadal in the third game put him on course for the first set but only after the left hander saved a break point with an ace when trying to serve it out.
A dejected Gasquet was then broken in the opening game of the second set as Nadal’s confidence soared, the Spaniard pummeling some trademark forehand winners as he wrapped up the first-round win with a 27th fizzing winner.
Nadal’s last match before Beijing was a last 16 defeat to Australian Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon.
“Three months without a match, winning against a player who is a good player like Richard, is a very positive comeback for me,” Nadal told reporters.
The Spaniard will face German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk in the second round after the world number 122 defeated big-serving Ivo Karlovic 6-4 2-6 7-5.
Djokovic had less time away than Nadal but showed more rust in his first appearance on the ATP Tour since losing to Kei Nishikori in the U.S. Open semi-finals this month.
The world number one traded five breaks of serve in the opening six games against Garcia-Lopez before Djokovic took a grasp of the match by holding for only the second time to lead 5-2.
He then broke Garcia-Lopez for a fourth time to seal the set with the Spaniard his own worst enemy, landing only 38 percent of his first serves.
The Serb looked more assured in the second set as he dropped just 14 points to take it 6-1 and make it a perfect 20 wins and no losses on Beijing’s blue courts as he bids for a fifth title here.
Murray, seeded six, won the Shenzhen Open on Sunday in his quest to book one of the eight spots at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London and needs a similarly strong week to help him climb up from 10th in the standings.
Facing off against the big-serving Pole, a man he beat in the semi-finals on his way to winning last year’s Wimbledon title, Murray was broken in his first three service games before he finally found his form.
Trailing 5-1, the Scot battled back to force a tiebreak but both players continued to struggle with their serves and wasted two set points apiece before the Pole finally claimed the opener 11-9 after a grueling 70-minute set.
Murray shook off the disappointment of losing that set and did not lose his serve again, breaking once in the second and twice in the third to set up a second-round match against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas.
Third seed Tomas Berdych, who won here in 2011 when Djokovic was absent, also dropped just three games in a first-round win as the Czech downed Spain’s Feliciano Lopez 6-1 6-2.
Writing by Patrick Johnston and John O'Brien in Singapore; Editing by Ed Osmond