Rafa bounces back


BUENOS AIRES. — 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 tennis tournament.

Defending Buenos Aires champion Nadal 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 Nadal 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, Nadal 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. The Buenos Aires clay has proved fertile ground for Nadal in the past, and the 29-year-old world number five, owner of 14 Grand Slam titles, admitted when he sought a wild card for the tournament that he hoped he’d be able to get his 2016 campaign on track here.

The year started for Nadal with a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing by Novak Djokovic in the final at Doha, which was followed by his 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 loss to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in his first round in Melbourne — just the second first-round exit from a Grand Slam in his career.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams fought back from a slow start against Latvian world number 103 Anastasija Sevastova to reach the Taiwan Open semi-finals 7-5, 6-2 yesterday. The seven-time Grand Slam-winner was struggling at 2-5 down in the first set, but she then won five straight games and fended off two set points before accelerating to victory. Top seed Williams (35) will play Yulia Putintseva in her first semi-final of 2016 after the Kazakh third seed went through courtesy of a retirement by Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele. “I didn’t think about the set points, I just tried to not lose the set,” said Williams, the world number 12, according to the WTA website.

“But she was playing really well and was very determined so it wasn’t easy to play her. From there, I think the experience really helped me and there was a lot of pressure on her.

“I just tried to do whatever was winning! If it’s not working you change it — so that’s the strategy.”

Taiwanese sixth seed Hsieh Su-wei beat Russia’s Elizaveta Kulichkova 6-0, 6-2 to set up a semi-final with Misaki Doi, who had a walkover against fellow Japanese Kurumi Nara. — AFP.

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