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Nadal stays on course for record in Rome

Written by: Staff

ROME, May 9 (Reuters) Rafael Nadal began his Rome Masters defence today by coming through a tricky first-round match against former world number one Carlos Moya 6-1 2-6 6-2.

The second seed from Spain led a trio of top players into the second round.

Fourth seed David Nalbandian od Argentina beat Spanish qualifier Fernando Vicente 6-2 3-6 6-3, fifth seed Andy Roddick brushed aside Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-1 6-0 and Russian sixth seed Nikolay Davydenko cruised to a 6-1 6-4 win over Boris Pashanski of Serbia and Montenegro.

Most of the attention, however, was focused on 19-year-old Nadal, who will equal Guillermo Vilas's 1977 record of 53 consecutive wins on clay if he retains his title this week.

Having taken advantage of an error-strewn start by his compatriot, the French Open champion was forced to dig in when Moya found the range on his groundstrokes to level at one set all.

Moya cracked early in the decider, putting one forehand into the tramlines, then blasting another over the baseline to drop serve in his first service game and gift Nadal the lead he needed to serve out and win.

HOME FAVOURITE ''I think that was one of the toughest first-round draws I could have got,'' said Nadal, who next faces home favourite Filippo Volandri, who knocked out Britain's Andy Murray 6-4 6-4.

''He beat me in the Miami Masters (earlier this year) and he made things difficult for me today.

Asked whether he would face a tougher test before the final, Nadal replied: ''We are only at the second round. I can't think any further forward than that.'' Nadal's refusal to look too far ahead is wise.

In recent years, Rome has proved a graveyard for its reigning champion, who has progressed beyond the second round just once since 1997.

The man Nadal beat in last year's final, Guillermo Coria, made an speedy exit.

The ninth seed's erratic early-season form showed no sign of lifting as he lost 6-3 6-2 to Spanish qualifier Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo.

He was followed out of the tournament by another Argentine claycourt specialist, 2004 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio.

He went down 4-6 6-3 6-3 against Belgium's Xavier Malisse.

Roddick has rarely produced his best on clay, but was delighted to set up a second round clash with unseeded Marcos Baghdatis, the Cypriot who beat him on the way to the final of this year's Australian Open.

''I'm really excited. It will be a lot different from the match-up in Australia,'' Roddick said after beating Hanescu.

''Back then he was coming out of nowhere and we'd never played each other before.

''I honestly haven't seen Marcos play on clay, but the thing he does well on hardcourts is move, and it will be interesting to see how that translates on to clay.'' Reuters PDS VP0250

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