(AFP) – Rafael Nadal returned to action for the first time since his shock first-round exit from the Australian Open with a straight-sets win over Juan Monaco in the ATP Argentina Open.
Defending Buenos Aires champion Rafa wasn’t his sharpest self in the rematch of last year’s final.
He dropped his serve three times but broke Monaco in the final game of each set to emerge with a 6-4, 6-4 victory in one hour and 38 minutes.
He set up a quarter-final clash with Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi, a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 winner over Diego Schwartzman.
Monaco hadn’t played a tournament since having right wrist surgery last August.
But Rafa wasn’t able to build much momentum against him.
Monaco earned the first break of the second set en route to a 3-1 lead, and after breaking back for 3-3, Rafa was in trouble again with two double faults to trail 15-30 in the ninth game.
He held on, sealing the game with a trademark forehand winner down the line to force Monaco to serve to extend the match.