Darting to his left, Rafael Nadal drilled a forehand winner down the line breaking with a flourish for a 4-2 third-set lead and celebrating with a fist pump.
Last week, Nadal made history starring as the first player to hit on Arthur Ashe Stadium with the new retractable roof closed last week—a moment he recorded for posterity with video.
Today, Nadal played director displacing Denis Istomin from the big picture.
Reeling off 10 of the first 12 games, Nadal rolled to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory to reach the US Open second round for the 12th time.
It was Nadal’s first Grand Slam match victory since he swept Facundo Bagnis in the Roland Garros second round last May. After enduring a 73-day sabbatical from the sport to nurse a tendon issue in his left wrist, Nadal competed with urgency and overcame an uneven second set to wrap up a two hour, seven-minute victory.
“I think I played a solid match for a lot of time,” Nadal told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi immediately afterward. “There was a tough moment in the second set, but I think I resisted well. I’m very happy for the victory. Denis is always a very dangerous player so I’m very happy to be through.”
Despite the lopsided scoreline, it wasn’t entirely a vintage Nadal performance.
The two-time US Open champion grew tentative at times on his forehand late in the second set. Istomin pounced on the lapse, stringing together three consecutive games to level.
Still, Nadal quickly recovered and regained command. He drew the error to break sealing the 51-minute second set.
The 107th-ranked Istomin carried a 0-4 record against Nadal onto Arthur Ashe Stadium and hurt his own cause littering 39 errors, including seven double faults.
Though Nadal wasn’t always driving his forehand with damaging intent in the second set, he consistently punished Istomin’s second serve, winning 20 of 30 points played on the second delivery and converting seven of 12 break points.
On a day in which 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic breezed into round two with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 sweep of Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, Nadal looked eager, moved fluidly and permitted just eight points on his first serve.
Unwrapping the adhesive tape that surrounds his left wrist before he left the court, Nadal said he feels his wrist is growing stronger, but knows there will be stress tests ahead.
“The most important thing is I’m here in New York and that makes me feel happy,” said Nadal, who raised his 2016 hard-court record to 14-7. “Injuries are part of the career of everybody.
“I had a hard time this year missing Roland Garros and Wimbledon and Toronto. I experienced (injury layoffs) a few times in my career… My wrist is improving and that’s important too.”
The fourth-seeded Nadal will play Andreas Seppi in the second round. The Italian veteran dispatched Frenchman Stephane Robert, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Nadal has won seven of eight meetings with Seppi, including a 6-3, 6-3 victory at the Rio Olympic Games earlier this month.