It was comeback day here at the US Open yesterday. Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet returned to the Grand Slam arena after enforced absences, the Spaniard sweeping to a straight-sets victory, while Kim Clijsters maintained her promising form after more than two years out of the game to beat Marion Bartoli and reach the third round.
Nadal had not played a Grand Slam match since his stunning defeat to Robin Soderling at the French Open three months ago, but last week pronounced himself "100 per cent" fit, having returned after more than two months out with tendinitis in both knees. Gasquet had been missing from the Grand Slam stage since January, his year having been dominated by a positive drug test for cocaine, which led to a suspension of two-and-a-half months.
There was no doubt which of the two was in better shape. Gasquet, who did not pick up a racket for nearly three months while he fought his case, can be one of the game's most elegant players, but apart from glimpses of his flowing one-handed backhand he looked out of touch.
Nadal, in contrast, played impeccably. His hair may be shorter – "It makes me feel younger," he joked afterwards – but the world No 3 looks as strong as ever. He served particularly well, winning 33 out of 35 points on first serve, and did not have to save a single break point on his way to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory, which earned a second-round encounter with Germany's Nicolas Kiefer.
Confirming that he was no longer playing with pain, Nadal said he was happy with his form. "I practised well here for one week and I went into the match feeling OK," he said.
Gasquet was just pleased to be on the court again. "That's my life, to be on the tour," he said. "It's hard to play well, to be fit, to be ready, especially when you have to play against a guy like Nadal, but I'm very happy. I watched two Grand Slams on TV. For sure I'm disappointed, but I'm really happy to play."