Rome - Novak Djokovic has made a winning return nearly a month after suffering a wrist injury, starting the Rome Masters on a rainy Tuesday with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Radek Stepanek.
The second-round victory after a bye was the first match for the world number two Serb since losing a Monte Carlo semi-final on April 19 to Roger Federer while suffering with his right wrist problem.
Djokovic, a two-time champion at the Foro Italico, was to have played last week in Madrid but held off.
He won in Rome with new coach Boris Becker looking on.
The Serb who is competing in Rome for an eighth straight year, won his 25th match here against five defeats.
Three of his losses have come against Nadal, the top seed bidding for an eighth trophy in the capital.
The end against Stepanek was a struggle, comprising four consecutive breaks of serve before Djokovic took victory with a service return winner out wide in gusting wind after 97 minutes.
"On clay, the wind comes in your eyes. I could not get any rhythm at all," said Djokovic.
"Stepanek is a very experienced player and has such variety of shot.
"It was frustrating to lose serve twice in the second set, but I managed to go through in the end."
Third-seeded Monte Carlo and Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka won the first seven games in a defeat of Spanish qualifier Pere Riba 6-0, 6-3 with the Swiss taking just 50 minutes to go through with 50 winners.
Roger Federer will be back on court eight days after the birth of his twin boys Leo and Lenny as he competes due to some fortunate timing in the birth of his second set of twins.
"Since they were born last Tuesday, that gave me a better chance of playing Rome," said the Monte Carlo finalist, who plays on Wednesday against France's Jeremy Chardy.
"I didn't want too much of a break.
"It doesn't matter if I play five matches or one match here.
"As long as I keep with the pulse of things on the tour.
"Of course I hope to win my first-round match, but at the moment I have totally different priorities."
Federer has lost three Rome finals, all three to Spaniards and the last two (2006, 2013) to Nadal.
The top-seeded Spaniard is relishing one of the biggest annual changes on the clay when he starts three days after winning another the Madrid title.
"Yes it's a big change (from Madrid altitude to sea-level Rome), but when you are winning it is a lot easier," said the holder. "You always need time to adjust.
"It's nothing crazy, you must work on how you hit the ball.
"The ball flies more in Madrid (at 800m) and you have less control.
"In Rome you have to hit harder.
"But this is something that I've done a lot over the past years," said the world number one, who claimed his first title in Rome nine years ago in an epic five-set final over Guillermo Coria.
In men's first-round play, a pair of Colombians both retired -- Croatian Marin Cilic advanced over Santiago Giraldo 6-4, 2-0 while Latvian Ernests Gulbis advanced 6-1 past Alejandro Falla.
German 15th seed Tommy Haas won his first Rome match since 2002, beating Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.
In the women's first round, Camilla Giorgi of Italy upset ninth seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 7-6 (7/2), tenth seed Sara Errani beat South African Chanelle Scheepers 7-5, 6-3 and 13th seed Carla Suarez Navarro defeated German Mona Barthel 6-2, 6-2.
Results on the third day of the Rome Masters on Tuesday (x denotes seeding):
Camilla Giorgi (ITA) bt Dominika Cibulkova (SVK x9) 6-4, 7-6 (7/2)
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) bt Natassia Burnett (ITA) 6-1, 6-3
Belinda Bencic (SUI) bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
Christina McHale (USA) bt Sorona Cirstea (ROM) 6-3, 4-6, 6-1
Sara Errani (ITA x10) bt Chanelle Scheepers (RSA) 7-5, 6-3
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x13) bt Mona Barthel (GER) 6-2, 6-2
Monica Puig (PUR) bt Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) 6-0, 4-6, 6-0
Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) bt Roberta Vinci (ITA) 6-2, 7-6 (8/6)
Petra Cetkovska (CZE) bt Angelique Kerber (GER x7) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
Marin Cilic (CRO) bt Santiago Giraldo (COL) 6-4, 2-0, retired
Andrey Golubev (KAZ) bt Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 6-4, 7-5
Ernests Gulbis (LAT) bt Alejandro Falla (COL) 6-1, retired
Kevin Anderson (RSA) bt Vasek Pospisil (CAN) 7-5, 7-6 (7/4)
Tommy Haas (GER x15) bt Andreas Seppi (ITA) 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) bt Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 6-0, 7-6 (7/4)
Igor Sijsling (NED) bt Marco Cecchinato (ITA) 7-6 (7/4), 7-5
Novak Djokovic (SRB x2) bt Radek Stepanek (CZE) 6-3, 7-5
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI x3) bt Pere Riba (ESP) 6-0, 6-3