MADRID – Rafael Nadal made a comfortable start to his quest for a third Madrid Open title on Wednesday, but Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka slumped to a shock exit.
Nadal eased past Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-4 and will next face either compatriot Nicolas Almagro or Mikhail Youzhny of Russia for a place in the quarterfinals.
One break in each set was enough for Nadal as he overcame some impressive variety and touch shown by Paire early on to break when the world No. 37 was serving at 2-3 down in the opening set, before eventually sealing it 6-3.
Paire had his only look at a break point on the Nadal serve early in the second set but couldn’t take advantage, and in typical Nadal fashion he upped the pressure to break at 4-4 before serving out to book his place in the last 16.
Nadal insisted that it would be “arrogant” to consider himself the title favorite following the early exit of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the hands of Grigor Dmitrov on Tuesday.
“I’m not looking beyond the next round, it would be arrogant to do that so I am not going to do it,” said Nadal.
The seven-time French Open champion has compiled a 27-2 match record this year after missing seven months with a knee injury.
That run has included trophies in Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Indian Wells and Barcelona.
Last year’s finalist and sixth seed Tomas Berdych stayed on course for a quarterfinal meeting with Andy Murray as he recovered from a set down against Jerzy Janowicz to win 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-2.
Tommy Haas, the champion in Munich last weekend, saw off Tommy Robredo 6-3, 7-5 while French seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Dutchman Robin Haase 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-1).
Kei Nishikori, the 14th seed, will face Roger Federer in the third round after he beat Victor Troicki 7-5, 6-2.
On the women’s side there was a big upset as world No. 3 Azarenka crashed out to Russian Ekaterina Makarova 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Azarenka had looked as if she would cruise into the last 16 early on as she dominated the world No. 24 in the first set.
However, Makarova turned the match on its head in the second set as she broke early on and again with Azarenka serving at 2-5 to force the match into a decider.
There were even more twists and turns in the third as Azarenka again appeared to take control as she surged into a 2-0 lead, but the double Australian Open champion then fell to pieces with a string of unforced errors that allowed Makarova back onto level terms at 3-3.
Azarenka was then unhappy when she was docked a point by the umpire for smashing her racket in the next game as Makarova moved ahead for the first time in the set.
Makarova broke the former world No. 1 to serve for the match and Azarenka barely even made the Russian earn it in the final game as she sailed well long three times to bow out with a whimper.
Azarenka, who had a 17-0 winning record on court this year going into the tournament, blamed her exit on a lack of match practice due to an injury that had kept her out for two months.
“I think it was really noticeable. I made mistakes that I don’t normally do, but that’s what comes after not playing for a long time,” she said.
“I still have another tournament before the French Open to compete in, and I’m going to go back on the practice court as I always do and work hard to improve.”