Returning back from a long break, both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have opened their clay-court seasons with clinical victories at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Djokovic produced a clinical 6-4 6-2 win over up-and-coming Jannik Sinner on Wednesday before Nadal, the 11-time champion at the Country Club, thrashed Federico Delbonis 6-1 6-2.
Both Nadal and Djokovic took some time off after the Australian Open, where Djokovic claimed a record-extending ninth title in February.
Facing a stern test against the much-touted Sinner in his first match since winning in Melbourne, the top-ranked Djokovic eased into his clay court routine to reach the third round and improve his unbeaten record this season to 10-0.
“It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match, a big challenge for me,” said Djokovic, a Monaco resident.
“I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.”
The 19-year-old Sinner, who arrived in Monte Carlo following a runner-up finish in Miami, saved two match points but was too often troubled by Djokovic’s mix of baseline attacks and subtle drop shots and he eventually succumbed on a double fault.
Djokovic will next face British No.1 Dan Evans, who beat Miami winner Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 6-1.
Djokovic, who beat Nadal in the 2013 final and won the tournament again in 2015, is seeded to face the Spaniard in Sunday’s final.
Against Delbonis, an Argentine qualifier, Nadal saved four of the five break points he faced and will take on Grigor Dimitrov in the next round.
The Monte Carlo Masters is back on the calendar with no fans after it was cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Defending champion Fabio Fognini also advanced to the third round, beating Australia’s Jordan Thompson 6-3 6-3.
Thompson’s compatriots John Millman, who was defeated by Chilean Cristian Garin 6-1 6-4, and Alexei Popyrin, who lost to France’s Lucas Pouille 7-5 2-6 6-3, also bowed out to end Australia’s interest in the singles.
There was a notable win for rising 22-year-old Norwegian Casper Ruud, who earned his second top-10 scalp with a 6-3 6-3 victory over ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman.