By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – Strong wind, and not his injured ankle, wound up affecting Rafael Nadal more in his first match of the 2015 Miami Open.
But even that didn’t keep him from cruising to a 6-4, 6-2 win against fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro on stadium court Friday afternoon.
Nadal, who had a first-round bye, advanced to the third round of the Miami Open, where he’s reached the final four times, but never won a title.
“The wind was really high. It was very difficult to find a positive feeling on the court,” said Nadal, the world’s third-ranked men’s player and the No. 2 seed in the tournament. “But in general, I played a solid match. I had good movement…and when I had to put balls in and play with no mistakes – that was the idea today with the very tough conditions – I did.”
Nadal twisted his left ankle during practice Monday. While it wasn’t deemed a serious injury by trainers, Nadal said the next day that it was painful and he wasn’t sure the impact it might have on his play.
Friday, he said his ankle had improved “50 percent” and that it didn’t limit his movement against Almagro.
The match ended not long before heavy winds and rain swept through, delaying the start of the night session, and seven-time women’s champ Serena Williams’ opening match against Monica Niculescu.
Earlier, the future of American tennis – Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys – faced off in what was expected to be one of Friday’s best matches. Stephens made it a one-sided affair, winning 6-4, 6-2.
Both players said the significance of their first meeting Friday wasn’t on their minds during the match.
“No, I just go out and play my game and stay focused,” Stephens said. “She’s a great player. I knew I had to go out there and execute.”
“I know Maddy is going to have a great career and I’m going to see her for the next 10 years of my life consistently,” she added. “I’m looking forward to seeing her get better.”
Said Keys of the match: “Just one of those days where I didn’t quite have the feeling, couldn’t really find it. Sloane played really well. In the first set, I had a chance to come back and maybe get into the match a little more. But a couple of bad points here and there and it just got away from me.”
The No. 5 women’s seed, Ana Ivanovic, and No. 7 men’s seed Stan Wawrinka both struggled, but advanced with three-set victories.
Ivanovic beat American Irina Falconi 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-3 and Wawrinka rallied to top Carlos Berlocq 6-7 (9), 7-5, 6-2.
“It was a very tough match and it was high-quality. She played really well,” said Ivanovic, the sixth-ranked woman in the world. “She was very, very aggressive and there were a lot of long rallies. I’m really happy to come back in the third set after losing the second set when I had match points.”
Ivanovic said she feels the grueling match will help her moving forward.
“Having not played as many matches, that’s definitely a good thing,” she said.
Also Friday, Victoria Azarenka defeated Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 6-1 in a matchup of former No. 1 players in the world.
“Even though the score looked easy, it’s never easy to be able to maintain this kind of focus and quality against a player like Jelena,” Azarenka said. “I never had an easy draw my whole career. I’m not expecting anything to come easy, because I have to climb my way back to the top. That’s the way you have to do it. It’s a good thing for me to play at this high level and go through tough opponents to really improve.”
On the men’s side, Andy Murray, like Nadal, had no trouble advancing. Murray, the world’s third-ranked player, knocked off American Donald Young 6-4, 6-2 in his opening match of this year’s tournament.
“I’ve played well against him the last couple of times,” Murray said. “Obviously, today was a very different match than Davis Cup – completely different conditions. The tactics you go into a match with completely change because of the weather and wind.”
Other men’s winners Friday included Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem, Leonardo Mayer, Santiago Giraldo, Tomas Berdych, Bernard Tomic and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Catherine Bellis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Garbine Muguruza, Sabine Lisicki, Simona Halep, Camila Giorgi, Flavia Pennetta, Johanna Larsson and Belina Bencic advanced in the women’s draw.