© Argentina Open/Sergio Llamera

Rafael Nadal se enfrentó a Juan Mónaco en la segunda ronda del Argentina Open.

Rafa's Rusty Return

Rafa Nadal is below his best, but still gets the job done in Buenos Aires

Rafael Nadal made a winning return to his beloved clay Thursday night in Buenos Aires, beating close friend Juan Monaco in a repeat of last year’s final of the Argentina Open. But the victory – in which Nadal dropped serve three times and committed 15 unforced errors in the first set alone – wasn’t pretty, especially coming against an underdone Monaco, playing his first tournament in six months.

“I’m happy for the victory,” Nadal said of the 6-4, 6-4 result. “The start was tough, as Juan is a good player and the big humidity here in Argentina made it difficult. I am happy to be through and hope to be ready for tomorrow.”

Monaco had not played a tournament since undergoing right wrist surgery shortly after Kitzbühel in August last year. And, coming into the match, the 2007 Buenos Aires champion had won just 18 games in 14 sets played in six career meetings on clay against Nadal.

Playing his first match since a first-round loss to Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open, Nadal’s confidence seemed to seesaw during the match. Soon after breaking back for 3-all in the second set, Nadal threw in two double faults on serve in the ninth game. But he closed it out with a crushing inside-out forehand down the line and then broke in the following game to close out the match.

Nadal plays Italian Paolo Lorenzi in the quarter-finals Friday.

“Paolo is a strong player and he had a great victory today,” Nadal said. “We’ll have an early afternoon start so it’ll be very warm. It’ll be a tough one.”

Nadal has won titles at four different Golden Swing tournaments: Acapulco (2005, '13), Sao Paulo (2005, '13), Rio de Janeiro (2014) and last year in Buenos Aires. This week he is chasing his 48th career title on clay to move within one victory of Guillermo Vilas’ all-time record of 49.

Nadal won three titles last season: Buenos Aires (d. Monaco), Stuttgart (d. Troicki) and Hamburg (d. Fognini).

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