MONACO — Rafael Nadal is back on the clay he loves so much.
Nadal, who has a mediocre 16-5 record this year, got the flawless start he was hoping for Wednesday at the Monte Carlo Masters, beating 21-year-old wild-card entry Lucas Pouille 6-2, 6-1 in the second round.
The Spaniard won eight consecutive titles in Monte Carlo from 2005-12 but has been struggling recently, dropping to fifth in the rankings. Now in the European clay-court season, the nine-time French Open champion is biding to regain his old form ahead of another shot at the title at Roland Garros.
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After recovering from a wrist injury and an appendectomy, Nadal lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. He then enjoyed a good week in Buenos Aires, where he won the title, but struggled on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami.
Following his loss to Fernando Verdasco in Florida, Nadal returned home to practice.
On Wednesday, the 14-time Grand Slam champion was in total control. He limited his mistakes to five unforced errors and did not face a single break point against an opponent ranked 108th by the ATP.
A forehand passing shot gave him a 3-1 lead in the second set, and he broke again in the sixth game and served out the match at love.
The switch to clay was also enjoyable for Stan Wawrinka, who won his maiden Masters tournament last year at the Country Club. The seventh-seeded Swiss produced a convincing 6-1, 6-4 win over clay-court specialist Juan Monaco to join Nadal in the third round.
Wawrinka won 15 of the first 20 points and broke twice to build a 5-1 lead before serving out the first set at love.
After conceding only two points on his serve in the opener, Wawrinka was made to work harder in a second set featuring five breaks of serve.
Wawrinka, who arrived in Monte Carlo on the back of early losses at Indian Wells and Miami, is hoping for better results on clay ahead of the French Open.
"The past two months were really difficult, both with my game and confidence," Wawrinka said. "But I have much ambition for this clay-court season. I grew up on this surface and it’s easier for me than for other players to switch to clay."
Next up for Wawrinka will be ninth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-4.
Also, Tommy Robredo progressed with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Marcel Granollers and Tomas Berdych defeated Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-4, 7-6 (2).
Second-seeded Roger Federer opened his campaign against Jeremy Chardy later Wednesday.