RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rafael Nadal showed no problem with his tender back in his second match since returning from the injury, defeating fellow Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-1, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals of the Rio Open on Thursday.
The No. 1-ranked Nadal tweaked his back warming up for the Australian Open final, which he lost almost four weeks ago in a major upset against Stanislas Wawrinka.
His first stop after the layoff is the clay in Rio as he tests the back and tries to stay healthy for the French Open in three months. A year ago he used the Latin American swing to test his recovery from an injured left knee.
Nadal seemed to move freely against Montanes and wore a large, blue elastic bandage on his lower back as a precaution.
"The back, well, it's bothering me a little," Nadal said. "Right now it's not hurting my game, but I'm serving a little more gently than I'm used to doing."
Nadal said he pushed his recovery "a little bit" to play in Rio, after pulling out of the tournament the week before in Buenos Aires.
"I am here and very happy being here," he said. "When you get an injury in the final of a Grand Slam, and you stop (playing/practicing) for 2 1/2 weeks, the comeback is not easy."
Asked if nagging injuries might force an early retirement, the 27-year-old joked a bit before getting serious.
"I can't predict the future, but my intention is to play many years," he said.
In the other key men's match, third-seeded Fabio Fognini reached the last eight beating Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-3. Second-seeded David Ferrer advanced on Wednesday.
Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine advanced to his second quarterfinals of the year, beating Facundo Bagnis of Argentina 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (4).