World number one Rafael Nadal sharpened his serve and cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Pablo Cuevas at the ATP Cup on Monday in a flawless display as he fine-tunes for the Australian Open.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion hit 26 winners and fired down seven aces against the world number 45 to clinch Spain’s victory over Uruguay in Perth after Roberto Bautista Agut beat Franco Roncadelli 6-1, 6-2.
Spain plays Japan on Wednesday with the winner qualifying for the knockout phase in Sydney, while the loser will have to rely on other results.
Underdog Cuevas had beaten Nadal in Rio four years ago, a feat particularly impressive for having been played on the Spaniard’s preferred clay surface.
But he was never in the contest Monday.
“I played better than the other day and it’s a very positive victory against an opponent I have a lot of respect for,” said Nadal, while praising the packed stadium as the reason why he keeps going.
“Because of these very special feelings when you are on court in front of a great crowd supporting, that’s one of the reasons why you wake up every morning and go on the practice court with the right passion and the clear goal to improve something.”
Nadal started with an ace and looked sharp but Cuevas, who suffered a tame defeat against Yoshihito Nishioka in his opener, matched with clean striking from the baseline.
Nadal gained control by targeting Cuevas’ inconsistent serve and he broke four times in the 73-minute match.
The 33-year-old notably served strongly and faced just one breakpoint for the match after struggling in his season opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili.
World number 10 Bautista Agut has had a soft draw to start the season against ATP tour debutants Roncadelli and Aleksandre Metreveli, who he crushed 6-0, 6-0 on Saturday.
Unranked Roncadelli replaced injured Martin Cuevas, the younger brother of Pablo.
The left-hander unleashed several menacing slices and hit the scoreboard in the third game to energise the near-capacity crowd, before Bautista Agut put the foot down and he finished with 17 winners in the 57-minute match.
“It isn’t easy playing a match like this, but I’m happy for him to have this experience,” Bautista Agut said.
In the earlier Group B tie, Nishioka notched his second upset to start the season after downing world number 26 Basilashvili in straight sets, as injury-hit Japan continued to surprise.
The world number 72 won 6-2, 6-3 to clinch the tie for unbeaten Japan after Go Soeda prevailed over Georgia’s Aleksandre Metreveli in three sets.
Japan, who whitewashed Uruguay on Saturday, are unbeaten despite the withdrawal of injured star Kei Nishikori and Yasutaka Uchiyama, their third best player, before the tournament.
They will attempt to continue their gutsy run against Spain, where Nishioka faces the daunting task of playing Nadal.
“I believe I can beat him,” Nishioka said. “I change my game plan against each opponent and I have a plan (against Nadal). If it works, maybe I have a chance.”
Winless teams Uruguay and Georgia are out of contention.