Nadal, in his first event since losing last month’s Australian Open final, needed only 74 minutes to rout Spanish compatriot Albert Montanes 6-1, 6-2 and book a date against Portugal’s 48th-ranked Joao Sousa, who eliminated 87th-rated Spaniard Albert Ramos 7-6 (8/6), 2-6, 6-3.
Nadal wore elastic tape across his lower back during the match and said the injury he suffered in losing the championship match at Melbourne to Stanislas Wawrinka still nags him.
“When you get injured in the final of a Grand Slam and stop for 2 1/2 weeks, it is not easy to come back,” Nadal said.
“The back is still bothering me a little bit but I am happy with my decision to be here.”
Nadal broke Montanes three times in each set and won the final four games of the match as he improved to 3-0 all-time against his countryman, having yet to lose more than three games in any set against him.
In career matches against Spaniards, Nadal is 101-15.