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Nadal Opens Title Defence

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal has a 40-1 record in Monte-Carlo.

World No. 2 Rafael Nadal opened his bid for a record eighth successive Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters crown on Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.

The Spaniard only suffered one slip-up, losing serve at 5-2 in the second set, but immediately broke Nieminen’s serve again for the fourth time in the following game to claim the win in 86 minutes. It was his seventh win in seven meetings with the No. 48-ranked Nieminen.

Victory marked Nadal’s 38th straight win at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, dating back to a third-round loss to Guillermo Coria in 2003, when he was just 16 years old. Since 2005 he has won seven consecutive titles and compiled a 40-1 tournament mark.

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The 25-year-old Nadal is looking to win his first tour-level title since clinching his 10th Grand Slam championship at Roland Garros in June 2011. The Mallorcan was beaten in five sets in the Australian Open final in January by Novak Djokovic and reached the semi-finals in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami.

For a place in the quarter-finals, Nadal will face Kazakhstani qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin, who defeated Italy’s Filippo Volandri 7-6(8), 2-6, 6-2 in two hours and 17 minutes.

"We need days to see how all the sensations improve: the knees, the tennis, everything," said Nadal. "When you stop for 15 days without practice, physical performance, practice tennis, your body loses a little bit the performance. That's usual. I need practice, and today was a good practice. Tomorrow is going to be another tough match against a player who is dangerous. We'll see what's going to happen."

Nadal was joined in the third round by countryman Nicolas Almagro, who overcame Italian wild card Potito Starace 7-6(3), 6-1. The eighth seed converted both his break point chances and only dropped 11 points on serve to wrap up victory in 75 minutes.

Almagro goes onto face Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, who defeated last week’s Casablanca champion, Pablo Andujar, 7-5, 6-3 in 80 minutes after breaking serve four times. World No. 26 Wawrinka was a semi-finalist in Monte-Carlo three years ago, falling to Novak Djokovic.

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