BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Fresh from winning his ninth Monte Carlo Masters title, Rafael Nadal is back in Spain to try and win the Barcelona Open for the ninth time.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion has a bye in the first round and will face either Marcel Granollers or Daniel Munoz de la Nava in his opening match.
The win over Gael Monfils on Sunday in Monte Carlo gave the Spaniard a record-equaling 28th Masters title.
"I'm really happy to have won one of the most important tournaments of the year," Nadal said Monday. "I won't talk about what's missing or what I'm lacking right now. I have to be satisfied with what I've accomplished."
With the French Open approaching, Nadal is improving on clay. He has won the title at Roland Garros a record nine times, but lost to Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals last year.
"This part of the season, with Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and then Roland Garros, is the most emotional part of the year for me," said Nadal, who added that he looked forward to improving his game further on his favorite surface in Spain.
"I play at home in Barcelona and next week, too, in Madrid, and it's a fact that I always enjoy playing in front of Spanish crowds, so I'm very excited."
Nadal is the biggest name at the Barcelona Open, but the draw also includes defending champion Kei Nishikori, David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet.
"It's good to see Rafa playing at a great level again," said Nishikori. "I'll play a match at a time and hope I can stay here for a long time."
In the first round on Monday, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, Evgeny Donskoy of Russia, Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic and Inigo Cervantes of Spain all won.
Also, Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia turned his match around to beat Nicolas Almagro of Spain 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2, while Albert Montanes beat Roberto Carballes Baena in an all-Spanish match.
Other first-round matches saw Russia's 19-year-old Karen Khachanov advance after beating Aljaz Bedene of Britain and Germany's Alexander Zverev going through after defeating countryman Jan-Lennard Struff.