Beijing - Rafael Nadal was broken four
times by one of his former ball boys before he struggled into the China Open
second round in an unconvincing return to action on Tuesday.
The Spanish great ultimately won 6-4, 6-4,
but not before he trailed in the second set against China's 230th-ranked Wu Di,
who once tossed him balls and towels in his native Shanghai.
Nadal, 29, was playing for the first time
since his third-round defeat at the US Open, but it was a far from satisfying
return as the 14-time Grand Slam-winner continued to scratch around for form.
"We don't need to talk more about
confidence, rhythm. That's my level today, and I'm going to work hard to try to
improve my level of today," he said.
"But tomorrow is another opportunity.
I played a match today that I can play better, and I think I can play better
tomorrow because I'm practising well."
On a heavily polluted day in Beijing, Wu
anticipated superbly when he lunged for a forehand volley winner for his first
break of the Spaniard early in the first set, and he wasn't done yet.
Wu broke again to go ahead in the second
set but with both players uneasy on serve, Nadal was able to wrap it up after
86 minutes and progress to a second-round meeting with Vasek Pospisil.
"I'm practising well, so the level of
tennis is going to be there sooner or later. I am working a lot to make that
happen. I think I'm closer to that," Nadal said.
"I know it's obvious that I need
results to confirm that. But we are almost at the end of this season and I have
time to keep playing the last tournaments of the year with the chance to
practise the things that I need to do for next year.
"My goal is recover the level
especially to play my best on clay next year."
Eighth-ranked Nadal has said he's using the
year's final events as practice for next season, after a forgettable 2015 in
which he didn't progress beyond the quarter-finals of any of the Grand Slams.
As for Wu, 24, it was a memorable encounter
after he was a ball boy for Nadal at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai and
later progressed to become a practice partner.
"As for the ATP Finals (Tennis Masters
Cup), I served as the ball boy for Rafa. So right now I played Rafa. It's not a
small deal," he said.
Results from the ATP/WTA China Open in Beijing on Tuesday (x denotes seeding):
Lu Yen-Hsun (TPE) bt Adrian Mannarino (FRA) 6-3, 6-2
Vasek Pospisil (CAN) bt Victor Estrella Burgos (DOM) 4-6, 7-5, 6-0
Rafael Nadal (ESP x3) bt Wu Di (CHN) 6-4, 6-4
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Simone Bolelli (ITA) 6-1, 6-1
John Millman (AUS) bt Tommy Robredo (ESP) 4-6, 6-1, 6-0
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x8) bt Wang Qiang (CHN) 7-5, 6-0
Angelique Kerber (GER x10) bt Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) 6-1, 6-4
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) bt Lara Arruabarrena (ESP) 0-6, 6-2, 6-0
Flavia Pennetta (ITA x3) bt Teliana Pereira (BRA) 3-6, 6-0, 6-4
Sara Errani (ITA) bt Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-4, 3-6, 6-1