Murray: Nadal best ever on clay
Barcelona - The accolades continued to rain down on Monday on Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard made tennis history at the weekend by winning an eighth straight Monte Carlo title by beating world No 1 Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-1.
But with the king of clay now turning his attention to lifting a seventh from eight attempts at the Barcelona Open, he's received an unexpected morale boost from his second-seeded main rival this week, Andy Murray.
"I don't think anyone can question the fact that Nadal is the best ever on clay," said world No 4 Murray, who learned his own dirt tennis in the Catalan capital as a teenager.
"You can never say 'never' but his eight in a row is a record that will certainly be hard to break," said Murray, who has played Barcelona twice (2005, 2006) but won just one match. He withdrew to let an elbow injury heal in 2011.
Nadal will aim to keep his focus this week.
"I'm only concentrating on playing well here, this is one of the nicest tournaments of the year for me. That is my challenge, not to become No 1 again, I'm home and this is very special to me. I'm so comfortable here."
Murray said he wants to start improving his own record at the Real Club de Tenis, where he begins in the second round against Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, who beat Russian Evgeny Donskoy 6-2, 6-3 on Monday.
"I'd like to start winning some matches, but I'm feeling better each day on the clay. It takes me a few weeks to get adjusted to the surface," said the 21011 French Open semi-finalist. "It feels like home to me here since I trained here a lot when I was young."
In first-round matches, Canadian 11th seed Milos Raonic bounced back from an early Monte Carlo exit, defeating Alejandro Falla of Colombia 6-4, 7-6 (7/3). Colombian Santiago Giraldo levelled the national scoreline as he beat Uzbek Denis Istomin 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.
Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, who lost a quarter-final against Nadal here six years ago, started with a defeat of Spaniard Javier Marti 6-4, 6-1.
Less than 24 hours after crushing Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo final, Nadal was outlining his chances in Barcelona.
"Beating the No 1 is special, but Novak (mourning the loss of his grandfather last week) made more errors than usual and I took advantage of that. I did have a few mistakes with my backhand though," said Nadal.
The top seed will open on Wednesday after a first-round bye, facing the winner from compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Belgium's Olivier Rochus.
Nadal said that despite trailing Djokovic in the rankings as the Serb put together a record-setting 2011 season of ten titles including three of the four Grand Slams, "I had a great season last year.
"But there was a player who did better, and usually sport is fair. And at the (January) Australian Open final, I came close to winning. It was important to beat Novak, but it's really only about the titles, not whom you defeat in the final."
Amid the usual tight security which follows Nadal in Spain, the top seed managed to make his way to the court for a hit-out on the clay to adjust to conditions after coming from his Monte Carlo success.
Results from the first day of the Barcelona Open on Monday (x denotes seeding):
Eduardo Schwank (ARG) bt Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo (ESP) 2-6, 6-4, 6-0
Federico Del Bonis (ARG) bt Aljaz Bedene (SLO) 6-3, 7-5
Robin Haase (NED) bt Sergey Bubka Jr. (UKR) 6-1, 3-2 retired
Steve Darcis (BEL) bt Andrey Golubev (KAZ) 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/5)
Milos Raonic (CAN x11) bt Alejandro Falla (COL) 6-4, 7-6 (7/3)
Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) bt Evgeny Donskoy (RUS) 6-2, 6-3
Joao Sousa (POR) bt Igor Kunitsyn (RUS) 7-6 (7/5), 6-3
Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) bt Javier Marti (ESP) 6-4, 6-1
Santiago Giraldo (COL) bt Denis Istomin (UZB x18) 7-6 (7/3), 6-4
Benoit Paire (FRA) bt Lukas Rosol (CZE) 6-3, 7-5
Filip Krajinovic (SRB) bt Inigo Cervantes (ESP) 6-2, 6-4
Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) bt Stephane Robert (FRA) 6-2, 6-3
Albert Montanes (ESP) bt Gerard Granollers-Pujol (ESP) 7-5, 6-2