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Spain's Rafael Nadal received a hero's welcome from the huge crowd on center court Wednesday at the Mutua Madrid Open before handily defeating Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-1, 6-3.
Baghdatis, who had eliminated Colombia's Alejandro Falla in the first-round, had no answers for Nadal's explosive forehand and committed 27 unforced errors in trying to cope with the Spaniard's depth and spin and dictate the rallies.
With Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo among the 12,500 watching in the stands, Nadal raced off to a two-break lead in the first set and never faced trouble on his own serve throughout the match.
With the win, Nadal ran his record this year to 30-4; he has more match victories than any player on the ATP Tour, although world No. 2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who defeated South Africa's Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4 earlier Wednesday, is still undefeated with a record of 28-0.
Djokovic won a clay-court tournament in Belgrade on Sunday, his fifth title of the year, and is only one victory away from tying Czech Ivan Lendl's record for most wins to start an ATP season (1989).
While Nadal has been his normally dominant self on clay, winning titles last month in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Del Potro is making a rapid recovery from wrist surgery last year and recapturing the level he had in 2009 when he demolished Nadal en route to capturing the U.S. Open.
It will be the ninth match between the two players and their second on clay. Nadal holds a 5-3 lead in their head-to-head and won their last match, a 6-4, 6-4 victory in March in Indian Wells.
He also defeated Del Potro 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 in their meeting on clay - at the 2007 French Open. While the tennis world eagerly awaits the match, Nadal said it is not ideal for them to play at such an early stage of the tournament.
"Tomorrow I have a match that's one of those you never want to play, but that's the way the draw played out," the nine-time Grand Slam champion said.
Nadal said Del Potro is capable of beating him on any surface and suggested the powerful, six-foot, six-inch Argentine had an advantage because Madrid's relatively high altitude makes for faster conditions.
"This (tournament) is more difficult for me, especially because the match is more out of your control, but we're not going to make excuses because I made the final in 2009 and was the champion last year."
In other matches in Madrid involving Spanish players, Daniel Gimeno-Traver upset Austria's Jurgen Melzer 7-6 (10-8), 6-3, Marcel Granollers lost to Czech Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-0 and Feliciano López fell in the match of the day to Switzerland's Roger Federer 7-6 (15-13), 6-7 (1-7), 7-6 (9-7).
In the first set of the López-Federer match, the Swiss squandered eight set points before finally winning the tiebreaker 15-13. López later seemed on the verge of victory when he took a 5-2 lead in the third-set tiebreaker, but he botched an overhead to give Federer a new lease on life and eventually lost a heartbreaker before a partisan crowd.
In another second-round match Wednesday, Colombia's Santiago Giraldo fell to Sweden's Robin Soderling 6-3, 6-3. The Mutua Madrid Open is one of the biggest clay-court events on the ATP calendar and a major tune-up event for the French Open, which gets underway later this month.