After missing out on Tennis Paradise last season, Rafael Nadal made an emphatic return to the BNP Paribas Open with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Jared Donaldson, who was playing just his second tour-level event after knee injury.
Nadal is not the player you’d want to play in the early stages comeback. Donaldson, clearly not at the level that helped him reach No. 48 in the world, struggled with the heavy topspin blasting his backhand on nearly every point. Bamboozled by Rafa’s signature defensive play and punishing lefty forehand, the 22-year-old American was unable to come up with the goods to push the No. 2 past one hour, 11 minutes of play, sending one last volley long to hand Nadal the match.
Up next for the former world No. 1 is Diego Schwartzman, who earlier in the day was a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Roberto Carballes Baena. Schwartzman was somewhat infamously the only player to take a set off Nadal at the French Open last year and will present a completely different challenge for the Spaniard in the third round.
Earlier in the day, Bianca Andreescu continued her Indian Wells dream run, displaying an imperious level that makes her run feel like less of a dream and more like destiny. The 18-year-old wild card had no troubles against qualifier Stefanie Voegele, who upset No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens in the second round. Andreescu was a 6-1, 6-2 winner in just 56 minutes.
Denis Shapovalov advanced the Canadian cause even further just moments after his countrywoman. He fought off Steve Johnson 6-3, 6-4 – saving break point in the final game – in front of a packed Stadium 3 crowd. He and Andreescu join compatriots Milos Raonic and Félix Auger-Aliassime in the next round in what has been a standout tournament for the BNP Paribas Open’s neighbors to the north.
“It’s always great when another Canadian is doing well, but especially Felix or Bianca,” said Shapovalov. “We are all really good friends.”
Elsewhere, Kei Nishikori survived a surprising challenge from unseeded Adrian Mannarino, whose unique, abbreviated style caused headaches for the Japanese superstar. The two fought evenly throughout the match, but it was Nishikori’s greater experience at the top level – coupled with his world-class backhand – that saw him survive the 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4) thriller.
Following Nishikori’s victory, fans on Stadium 2 were treated to a high-quality women’s match, which saw No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens claim an epic first-set tiebreak over Johanna Konta to ultimately advance 7-6(10), 6-4. The Dutchwoman is an under-the-radar recent addition to the WTA’s Top 10 following a breakthrough 2018, and possesses a game suited to any surface. She faces Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round, a 6-3, 1-0 ret. victor over an ailing Serena Williams.
Ashleigh Barty capped off a cool night session with a comprehensive victory over good friend Jennifer Brady, a wild card entrant into the BNP Paribas Open after a run to the final at the Oracle Challenger Series Indian Wells WTA 125K lead-up event. Both players play a similar serve-based game, but it was Barty’s versatility and mastery of the forecourt that gave her the edge in a clean 6-3, 6-2 win.
Barty faces nemesis Elina Svitolina in the fourth round, against whom she is 0-4 in their career head-to-head.