World No. 1 Rafael Nadal began his quest for a third claycourt title in a month with a 6-1, 6-3 drubbing of unseeded Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in the Madrid Masters second round on Wednesday.
Third-seed Roger Federer had a much less comfortable time and saved a match point before finishing off unseeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 7-6, 6-7, 7-6.
Novak Djokovic, the world No. 2, maintained his unbeaten start to the year with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over unseeded South African Kevin Anderson, while fourth-seeded Briton Andy Murray went through 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 against Gilles Simon of France.
Nadal, who won back-to-back tournaments in Monte Carlo and Barcelona last month, did not face a break point on his serve and converted his first match point when he whipped a trademark forehand winner down the line.
The victory over Baghdatis took the 24-year-old Spaniard’s record on clay since 2005 to 187 wins and six defeats and set up a last-16 meeting with Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.
The resurgent former world No. 4 dismissed Croat Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-0 as he continued his comeback from a wrist injury.
Nadal said he would like to have avoided the powerful Del Potro so early in the tournament.
“It’s one of those matches you can win or lose and anything could happen,” he said. “I will try to play at my top level, aggressively and with more intensity. I am coming into the match in good form and I will try to maintain that. The winner will take away a lot of confidence for the rest of the tournament.”
Federer had to draw on all his experience to see off an inspired Lopez in a match that riveted the capacity crowd in the Magic Box arena for almost three hours.
“You have been there before, so you don’t get too carried away and at the end of the day it’s just a tennis match,” said the Swiss, who faces unseeded Belgian Xavier Malisse on Thursday. “I am really relieved to have come through.”
Australian Open champion Djokovic has won all his 28 matches this season and is closing in on Ivan Lendl’s 29 victories at the start of 1986, the third-best after John McEnroe (42) in 1984 and Bjorn Borg (33) in 1980.
“It’s a great honor and very -flattering to be part of that elite, but it’s not my priority,” said the 23-year-old Serb, who has won five titles this year. “It’s kind of a surprise, but I always believed I had the quality to beat any player. I am more mature and I have more self-belief, which is very important for this level.”
Djokovic next faced unseeded Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for a place in today’s quarter-finals.
The altitude in Madrid, which is about 650m above sea level, makes the ball fly through the air faster and Djokovic said if there was any clay court where Nadal was vulnerable, it was here.
“It’s hard to control the ball,” he said. “You don’t get that much time and control on these courts and if you serve well, it’s an advantage. I think there are players who can win against Rafa here. If there is any court where he can be beaten, it’s here. Nobody is invincible, not him or anyone else.”
World No. 3 Vera Zvonareva fell in the third round of the Madrid Open on Wednesday when she lost 6-1, 6-4 to 16th-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova.
The Russian, who could have risen to No. 2 had she reached the final of the claycourt event, had her serve broken four times by the world No. 18, the only left-hander inside the top 30.