BANGKOK: Rafael Nadal put on a typically commanding performance in his Bangkok debut on Thursday, the Spanish top seed progressing with the minimum of fuss in his first career match at the Thailand Open.
The world number one demolished feisty Belgian qualifier Ruben Bemelmans 6-1, 6-4 to set up a clash with Mikhail Kukushkin after the Kazakh saw off another Belgian, Olivier Rochus, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.
Fans in the sell-out crowd cheered and clapped wildly for Nadal, who has won the last three majors, and the popular Spaniard also met Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the pair exchanging gifts.
"The first round is for sure never easy," said Nadal.
"I had some time off after winning the US Open and spent a week in this great country. I played well but I must improve for the next match."
It was not such a good day for Spain’s other top player, as German Benjamin Becker defeated second seed Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-4.
Verdasco had not competed indoors since February — and he paid the price as he tried and failed to adjust.
"The start was the toughest part," said the Spaniard, who trailed 5-1 in the opening set and lost his serve in the penultimate game of the match on a fourth double-fault to open the door for Becker to serve out the win.
"I haven’t played indoors for so long. He had a match already and was comfortable on the surface. He played better than me today and deserved the win," said Verdasco.
In other second-round action, Finn Jarkko Nieminen put out last year’s losing finalist as he defeated Serb seventh seed Viktor Troicki 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 at the Impact arena.