Rafael Nadal maintained his perfect record of never losing back-to-back matches on clay, defeating the big-serving John Isner 6-3, 6-1 at the Italian Open here on Wednesday.
The Spaniard, beaten by Carlos Alcaraz in last week's Madrid Open quarterfinals, returned to his favourite surface with straight sets win over American Isner.
Nadal has been untouchable at the Foro Italico for much of his career and he immediately looked settled in his return games against Isner, countering the American's huge serve with his trademark spinning groundstrokes.
Although the unseeded Isner competed well, he struggled to recover any momentum after letting slip two break points at 3-3 in the opening set as Nadal dominated the second to move to a 69-7 match record in the Italian capital.
Nadal identified his hold in the seventh game of the first set as the key turning point in his eighth tour-level win over Isner. "I finished better than how I started, without a doubt," said the Spaniard after the match.
"The beginning of the match was not good for me. He had some chances on the return and had two break points. I was lucky that he missed those shots and then I was able to break. Then the match changed, of course. With the first set on the board, and having the break in the first game of the second [set], everything changed."
The win continued Nadal's comeback to competitive action after he reached the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open last week following a six-week layoff due to a rib injury.
Having lost to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in Spain, the win over Isner ensured Nadal has still never lost consecutive matches on clay, with Wednesday's victory taking him to 44-0 in matches following a defeat on the surface.
An evenly matched opening set hinged on the seventh and eighth games, as Nadal saved two break points to hold before breaking the American for 5-3. He served out to clinch the set as Nadal began to up his level to the delight of a passionate Italian crowd.
Nadal's return game continued to look in good shape against former World No. 8 Isner, and the 36-time Masters 1000 champion broke the World No. 27 three times in the second set to complete a comfortable 76-minute victory. The win was built on relentless consistency from Nadal, who made just three unforced errors in the match.