ROME: Rafael Nadal eased into the last 16 of the Italian Open on Wednesday with a straightforward 6-3, 6-1 win over John Isner, while Alexander Zverev beat Sebastian Baez.
Third seed Nadal made short work of Isner as he bids for an 11th title in Rome, the King of Clay seeing off his American opponent in one hour and 17 minutes under blazing sunshine at the Foro Italico.
A quarter-final loser to countryman Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid, Nadal can profit from the in-form teenager’s absence in the Italian capital to win the last big clay event before the French Open later this month.
The 35-year-old had been out for six weeks with a rib injury before returning in the Spanish capital last week but Isner put up little resistance against the 21-time Grand Slam winner.
“I need to build again the things after a tough stop and that’s what I’m trying, just to stay with the right attitude and let’s see if I’m able to make that happen,” Nadal said courtside.
The match swung in Nadal’s favour in game eight, when Nadal broke veteran world number 27 Isner before serving out to take the first set.
From there Nadal cruised to victory, dropping just 14 points on his way to setting up a third round clash with Denis Shapovalov.
“I need to play better than I did today but after a while out it’s another victory and tomorrow another chance to play against one of the best players in the world,” Nadal added.
Earlier Zverev got through with a straight-sets 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 win over Baez in just over an hour and a half.
Second seed Zverev, soundly beaten by Alcaraz in the Madrid final at the weekend, will face one of Tommy Paul or Alex de Minaur.
A gruelling first set went with the serve right until the fourth point of the tie-break, when German world number three Zverev took a 3-1 lead.
Baez fought back to 6-6 but Zverez broke the Argentine before serving out the set and making sure of his passage into round three in a less complicated second set.
Former champion Karolina Pliskova was dumped out of the women’s tournament after being beaten by Switzerland’s Jil Tiechmann 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
Pliskova had made the previous three finals in Rome, winning the title in 2019, but the sixth seed lost to 24-year-old Tiechmann in a battle which lasted two hours and 40 minutes.
Third seed Aryna Sabalenka strolled nto the next round with a routine 6-2, 6-0 win over Shuai Zhang, while Coco Gauff is also in the last 16 after seeing off fellow American Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-4.