It will take more than one match for Rafael Nadal to convince anybody that he is on the way back to recapturing his best form, but the 23-year-old Spaniard made a promising return when he began his comeback at the Indian Wells Masters on Saturday. Nadal, who has not played since his defeat to Andy Murray in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, beat Germany's Rainer Schuettler 6-4 6-4 in gusting winds to book his place in the third round.
The world No 3, who has been recovering from a knee injury, made a flying start, racing to a 4-0 lead, and although Schuettler recovered one break, Nadal rarely looked in trouble. A break in the seventh game of the second set put the defending champion on his way to victory in an hour and 34 minutes. He now plays Croatia's Mario Ancic, who beat the Frenchman Julien Benneteau 4-6 7-5 6-3.
"It was a good start in the conditions for me and I'm very happy," Nadal said. "I feel really well with the forehand and that's very important to my game. Maybe I can play better in better conditions with the backhand."
Novak Djokovic, the champion at Indian Wells in 2008, made a less impressive start as he struggled to beat Mardy Fish 6-1 0-6 6-2 in a match of rapidly changing fortunes. Having won the first set comfortably, Djokovic then lost seven games in succession to the man he beat in the 2008 final.
Although Djokovic recovered to take the third set, his 37 unforced errors and nine double faults will be a concern. "I had a terrible start," the world No 2 admitted after the match. "Mardy played some good shots and I made a lot of unforced errors. I'm still jet-lagged and it took some time for me to get used to the centre court. I was very lucky to pull it out in the end."
The first major casualty of the men's tournament was Marin Cilic, the No 8 seed, who was beaten 7-6, 6-0 by Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Nikolay Davydenko, who has been troubled by a wrist injury, had a tricky opening match against a resurgent Ernests Gulbis but beat the Latvian 6-4 6-4.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, the top seed in the women's event, lost in disappointing fashion to Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro. Kuznetsova made 69 unforced errors and had seven double-faults in going down 6-4 4-6 6-1 after an hour and 56 minutes. It continued a frustrating run for the Russian, who has not gone beyond the fourth round in four tournament appearances this year.
"It's frustrating because I know I have the game," Kuznetsova said. "I do practise, play unbelievably and then I get to the match and I don't do much. I feel good and the ball doesn't go where I want it to go. So my thinking is I just need more matches."
Justine Henin was another surprise loser, going out to Argentina's Gisela Dulko, but her fellow Belgian, Kim Cijsters, had few problems, beating the Czech Republic's Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-2 6-1 in just under an hour.Reuse content