Nadal cruises to straight-set win over American teenager in first round of Madrid Open

MADRID (AP) — Rafael Nadal couldn't learn much from his comfortable straight-set win over American teenager Darwin Blanch in the first round of the Madrid Open.

Nadal cruised to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over the mistake-prone 16-year-old Blanch on Thursday.

“I didn’t test much my body today,” the 37-year-old Nadal said. “I played a decent match doing the things that I had to do to be through, but at the same time I played against a player ... making more mistakes.”

Blanch, playing only in his second ATP tour match, made 27 unforced errors. Nadal never faced a break point and was in control from the start against the wild-card entry, closing the match in just over one hour at the Caja Magica center court in the Spanish capital.

“I think today I played against an opponent with a great future,” Nadal said. “But today, still making mistakes. I just tried to be there, be solid all the time without taking a lot of risks. It worked well. I’m happy to be through and I wish him all the very best for the future.”

The encounter marked the largest age gap (21 years, 117 days) between two opponents at an ATP 1000 tournament.

Nadal looked in good form and showed no physical limitations in just his third competitive match since returning from his latest injury layoff. He had made his return in Barcelona last week, losing in the second round to Alex De Minaur, who will also be his second-round opponent in Madrid on Saturday.

“I hope I can give my best and be competitive against De Minaur,” Nadal said. "Every time I have the chance to be on court in this amazing stadium with an unconditional supportive crowd, it means a lot to me. Just trying to enjoy every moment. Tomorrow, one more day of practice here and then after tomorrow, on court again. That makes me feel great.”

Nadal had arrived in Madrid saying he was not 100% fit, and that he was only going to play because the clay-court tournament was at home.

On Wednesday, the record five-time champion in Madrid said that in his current condition he would not play if this was the French Open, a tournament he has won a record 14 times.

The Spaniard is trying to get back in shape for the tournament in Paris for what will likely be his last Roland Garros appearance. The French Open begins next month.

A 22-time Grand Slam champion, Nadal had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 would probably be his last year on tour. He had skipped Monte Carlo, and his last tournament had been in Brisbane in January, when he played three matches.

“The thing is before, most of the time, I was able to give my 100% of the 100%,” Nadal said. “Today I’m able to give my 100% of sometimes 40%, sometimes 60%, sometimes 70%, and if I am able to raise this percentage day after day or week after week, why not in the future what can happen? If not, it’s impossible.”

OTHER RESULTS

Felix Auger-Aliassime rallied to defeat Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, while Lorenzo Sonego beat Richard Gasquet 6-2, 7-5 to set up a meeting against fellow Italian Jannik Sinner, the top seed in Madrid. Gasquet was playing in his 1,000th tour-level match.

Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro will face Stefanos Tsitsipas after defeating Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-3, while fellow Brazilian João Fonseca rallied to beat American Alex Michelsen 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

SWIATEK AND GAUFF ADVANCE

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek began her quest to win the Madrid Open for the first time with a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 win over Wang Xiyu to set up a third-round meeting against 27th-seeded Sorana Cirstea.

Madrid remains the only top European clay title that Swiatek is yet to win.

“I love this place. I got to know the city a little better last year,” Swiatek said. “So this time I feel more comfortable around.”

American Coco Gauff eased to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Arantxa Rus in less than an hour for her first tour-level, main-draw win without losing a game.

“Oh-and-oh, I’ve never done that before, I’ll probably never do it again,” Gauff said.

Former No. 1 Naomi Osaka lost 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 to 15th-seeded Liudmila Samsonova.

Osaka, who returned from maternity leave in January, had earned her first win on clay in two years on Wednesday.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis