© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Rafael Nadal saved two set points in the opening set against Dan Evans.

Nadal Shakes Off Rust, Takes Montreal Opener

Spaniard going for record-extending 35th ATP Masters 1000 title

Leads don't usually last long against Rafael Nadal, and the Spaniard quickly erased the brief advantages Brit Daniel Evans had to win his opener 7-6(6), 6-4 on Wednesday at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal.

Evans led 5/2 in the first-set tiebreak, but Nadal won six of the final seven points to seize momentum at the ATP Masters 1000 event. In the second, Evans, after suffering an early break, had them back on serve at 3-3, but Nadal broke right back en route to his 35th win at the Canadian Masters 1000. Nadal also earned his 378th Masters 1000 victory, tying Roger Federer on the all-time leaderboard.

"Daniel is a player that combines an aggressive game with good hands. He's able to read the game very well, so he knows how to play tennis in terms of tactics," Nadal said.

"It was a tough first set. Then in the second, I was able to take advantage at the beginning, but then he broke me back. It was so important, that [next] game again to have the break."

The Spaniard was contesting his first match since losing to Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals on 12 July. Nadal is going for his fifth Canadian Masters 1000 title, with his titles evenly split between Montreal (2005 and 2013) and Toronto (2008 and 2018). He's also going for a career-first this week: Nadal has never defended a hard-court title.

"Always is tough, first match on hard court after such a long time. After Wimbledon, the mind always goes down a little bit because I have been playing a long clay-court season, then grass, so you didn't relax. Then when you finish Wimbledon, it's like your body loses a little bit of that tension, so it needs little bit of time to recover," Nadal said.

"Today, as I said before, the main thing is win. I know with victories that other things should be coming slowly. I have been playing and practising more or less well. Now is the moment to compete. Today I competed enough well to be through. Tomorrow is another challenge."

The World No. 2 will next face Brasil Open winner Guido Pella on Thursday after the Argentine defeated Moldovan Radu Albot 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(2) after two hours and 23 minutes. Defending 1000 ATP Rankings points as the 2018 tournament champion, Nadal must reach the final to prevent Federer from displacing him as World No. 2 on Monday when the standings are released.

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The 29-year-old Evans, who had been looking for his first Top 5 win (0-5), is now 3-8 lifetime against players in the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings.

Nadal, playing in just his second tournament since winning a 12th Roland Garros title two months ago, showed signs of early rust, missing a number of forehands as he was broken in the opening game and as Evans held to love en route to a 3-1 lead before players sat down to wait out a brief rain delay.

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Evans won his first nine service points and took the battle to Nadal, stepping into the court at every opportunity to crush forehands and to make 20 net approaches during the set. But gradually Nadal regained confidence in his dominant forehand, which he used to move Evans side to side and to break Evans in the first game back after the first rain delay.

The pattern continued from there, with Nadal gaining more and more belief and settling into the season's sixth Masters 1000 event.

Nadal has won all three of his previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Pella, claiming all seven sets they have played. But the Argentine lefty is enjoying the best season of his career, entering this event in 14th place in the ATP Race To London. The World No. 24 reached his career-high ATP Ranking of No. 21 in May.

"Today was a good victory that allowed me to be back on court again tomorrow. Tomorrow [I play] against a player who is playing great. He's having the best year of his career," Nadal said of Pella. "He's super dangerous, winning great matches. I need to be ready for tomorrow."

In other action, seventh seed Fabio Fognini saved three set points in the opening set against American Tommy Paul and advanced 7-6(3), 6-3. The Italian, who won his maiden Masters 1000 title at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters in April, will next face Adrian Mannarino. The Frenchman dismissed 11th seed Borna Coric 6-2, 6-1.

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