Rafael Nadal made a winning return to the American hard courts at Indian Wells in his first game on the surface since he withdrew from the Miami Masters 1000 tournament almost a year ago in a precursor to a seven-month injury lay-off due to tendinitis in his left knee.
Nadal's 7-6, 6-3 win over American world number 73 Ryan Harrison was a bright point for the traveling Armada, which lost its first elite competitor earlier in the day as David Ferrer was ousted in the second round by South Africa's Kevin Anderson, a player who stands almost a full foot taller than the Spaniard. Ferrer, who has won titles already this year in Auckland and Buenos Aires, took two of three break-point opportunities in the first set, but was gradually pegged back by Anderson's booming serve to suffer a rare early exit from a Masters event, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
"I had my chance at 4-4 [in the second set] but he played good in important moments." said the Spanish world number four. "He played more aggressive, more consistent than me. In the third set I was a little bit tired and he was better than me. Of course I am disappointed because I lost my first match, but this is tennis. It's impossible to win always."
Fernando Verdasco, who was in the top 10 two years ago, can't buy a victory at the moment. The 2010 San Jose and 2009 New Haven champion is no stranger to success away from the usual Spanish preserve of clay, but had no answer to the onslaught of veteran Finn Jarkko Nieminen, who inflicted a humbling 6-1, 6-0 defeat over Verdasco. The Spaniard has only won two matches so far this season, both at the Australian Open where he required five sets to get through the first round.
Nieminen and Anderson will face off in round three in what had been billed as a potentially all-Spanish encounter, while Nadal will go on to play Leonardo Mayer, who is becoming a regular sparring partner of Nadal's: the pair met last week in Acapulco and also at Indian Wells last season, with Nadal victorious on both occasions.
"I am satisfied to be in the next round," said Nadal, who is aiming to extend his run on clay, which reaped three final appearances and two titles on the Golden Swing, into the European season where Roland Garros beckons. "That's the most important thing. Two weeks ago, I didn't really know if I would be playing here, so I am happy to be here. I feel fine. My physical performance needs to improve. My movements need to improve."