RIO DE JANEIRO - Top-ranked Rafael Nadal, playing for the first time since losing last month's Australian Open final, beat fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-3, 7-5 Tuesday at the Rio Open.
Nadal skipped Buenos Aires last week due to the nagging back injury that hindered his bid for a 14th Grand Slam singles crown last month at Melbourne, where he dropped the final to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka.
That left his comeback for Rio's US$1.3 million (S$1.6 million) ATP and WTA event, one he hopes will launch a clay-court campaign that concludes with a ninth career French Open crown.
It was the 800th match of Nadal's career, making him the sixth active player to reach the mark.
In improving to 670-130, Nadal joined Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Tommy Haas, David Ferrer and Nikolay Davydenko with at least 800 appearances.
Nadal connected on 57 per cent of his first serves and won 77 of his first-serve points and 65 per cent of those on his second serve, surrendering only one break and breaking his 84th-ranked rival in the penultimate game to advance after one hour and 40 minutes.
Nadal was broken in the second game of the second set but answered by breaking back in the third game and again in the 11th, then served out for the victory, improving to 10-0 on Brazilian soil, a run that includes titles in 2005 at Costa do Sauipe and last year at Sao Paulo.
Next up for the 27-year-old lefthander from Mallorca is another compatriot, 72nd-ranked Albert Montanes, who ousted Dutchman Robin Haase 6-1, 7-6 (7/4).
Yet another Spaniard, second seed Ferrer, could await Nadal in the final. Ferrer launched his bid for a Rio crown by downing Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-3.