TOKYO (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal overpowered qualifier Go Soeda 6-3 6-2 as he began the defence of his Japan Open title in a blur of swashbuckling winners on Tuesday.
The top seed produced some dazzling shot-making under floodlights in Tokyo, taking the first set with a jaw-dropping backhand lob at full stretch with Japanese Soeda marooned at the net.
Nadal, sweat dripping from his purple T-shirt, kept his foot on the gas in the second and the Spaniard teed up match point with a superb running forehand down the line.
The world number two swiftly ended proceedings, ripping another forehand deep into the corner to trigger a stampede as fans rushed from their seats for the chance of an autograph.
“It was important to win but I need to spend more time on court,” said Nadal, returning to Japan after helping Spain reach the Davis Cup final.
“The balls felt a little bit heavy so it was difficult to hit my top spin,” the 10-times grand slam champion told reporters. “But maybe it will get better playing day matches.”
Nadal next faces big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic who beat Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-7 6-3 7-6 in his first match since undergoing hip surgery after Wimbledon.
“Milos will be a dangerous opponent for me,” said Nadal, chasing a 47th career title. “He has one of the best serves on the tour. It’s a big advantage for him.”
Nadal’s Davis Cup team mate David Ferrer powered past local hope Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-3 to reach the last 16.
Third seed Ferrer lost his only previous meeting with Nishikori at the 2008 U.S. Open but slammed the door quickly on the Japanese number one on a chilly evening by Tokyo Bay.
Fierce pressure from 2007 Japan Open champion Ferrer took its toll on Nishikori, who dumped a simple backhand into the net from mid-court to surrender the first set.
Ferrer, who has won titles in Auckland and Acapulco this year, wrapped up a comfortable win in an hour and 29 minutes with a huge forehand too hot for his opponent to handle.
“I feel good,” said the Spaniard. “Tokyo is very special for me. I remember a lot of good moments here.”
Argentina’s David Nalbandian looked back to his old street-fighting best in a 6-1 6-1 win over Czech Lukas Rosol.
The former world number three, fresh from helping his country knock out holders Serbia to reach the Davis Cup final, needed just 49 minutes to finish the job.
Mercilessly punching winners past a deflated Rosol, Nalbandian could afford to let three match points slip before a backhand error gave him victory.
“Week after week I’m feeling better and playing better,” said Nalbandian whose ranking has slipped to 64th after groin and leg surgery in March. “I played a great match.”
In other first-round ties, Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis beat Pole Lukasz Kubot 6-3 3-6 7-5 while American Alex Bogomolov got the better of Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen 6-4 6-4.
Bogomolov will play second seed Andy Murray or Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in the last 16.
Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org