It was billed as battle of the former world No.3s, but few expected the injury-hit Canadian to emerge victorious. It was an encouraging display from the 27-year-old, and he will be desperately hoping his stop-start season finally has lift-off.
With the exception of the Monte-Carlo, Dimitrov has performed poorly at Masters events this year. He was unfortunate to be paired with Raonic at such any early stage, however his coach, Daniel Vallverdu, will still be concerned by his pupil’s lack of consistency.
Juan Martin del Potro’s first outing of the clay-court season went without a hitch. His tie with Damir Dzumhur looked to be a mismatch on paper, and it proved to be the case.
The Indian Wells champion cruised into the last sixteen with a 6-3 6-3 success over the overpowered Bosnian in just 80 minutes. He will face qualifier, Dusan Lajovic, next, who dispatched Richard Gasquet 7-6(1) 7-6(1).
Kyle Edmund, buoyed by his unexpected doubles triumph alongside Cameron Norrie on Sunday, made light work of Daniil Medvedev. He romped to a 6-4 6-0 win to earn a second round showdown with Novak Djokovic.
In other first round matches, Robin Haase eased to a surprising 6-2 6-0 win over Hyeon Chung, Borna Coric dominated Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4 6-2 and Philipp Kohlschreiber breezed past Yuichi Sugita 6-4 6-3.
Fernando Verdasco joined the 500 Club after dismissing Paolo Lorenzi 7-5 6-4. The veteran is the sixth Spaniard to register that many match-wins, and he was understandably delighted to secure a landmark victory in the city of his birth.
“It’s an unbelievable victory,” beamed Verdasco post-match. “Getting the 500th victory of my career is an unbelievable number that I did not even think about. I’m super-emotional and super-happy.”
Leon Smith will hope that returning to a familiar venue – the atmospheric Emirates Arena – will help fire his side to a much-needed victory and ensure relegation to the second tier is avoided.
The Emirates Arena, an 8,000-seater stadium in the east of the city, has become the adopted home for Great Britain in recent years. The venue hosted Andy Murray and friends for their memorable clashes with the USA and Australia during an historic 2015 campaign.
The Arena was also used when Argentina, led by an irresistible Juan Martin del Potro, defeated Great Britain en route to the title in 2016.
Smith, the British captain, will be hopeful of calling upon the services of Murray. The three-time Grand Slam champion is due to make his long-awaited return from hip surgery in June.
Kyle Edmund, who has led the team in Murray’s absence, should be involved and Dan Evans may also be an option – if he can recapture the form he showed prior to his doping ban.
Cameron Norrie, who impressed during Great Britain’s Davis Cup loss to Spain in February and is on the brink of cracking the Top 100, is also a selection option.
The tie will be held between September 14-16.
The defending champion, who must keep winning to remain as world No.1, was expecting a stern examination against her Belgian rival, but the stiff challenge anticipated never materialised.
Mertens has been collecting silverware for fun this season and she arrived in Madrid on a 12-match winning streak. Her hopes of posing a legitimate threat to Halep were not helped by illness, though, and she was flat and error-prone throughout the opener.
The Belgian did perk up in the second set – performing with greater conviction and belief – but she was unable to deny her focused and determined rival a 14th consecutive victory in the Spanish capital.
Halep capitalised on a tentative start from her opponent and immediately nabbed a breakthrough. Mertens floated an attempted backhand lob beyond the baseline to make the worst possible beginning.
The Romanian was dialled in, but her opponent was messy from the baseline. The world No.16 unleashed a miserly two winners and committed a mammoth 14 unforced-errors in a 21-minute opener she will be keen to banish from her memory bank.
Matters got decidely worse for Mertens in the second set. She nudged a forehand wide to slip a break and 1-0 behind. It was in danger of becoming rout, but the Belgian eventually rallied.
Mertens got her side of the scoreboard moving after conceding the first 8 games. She cracked a wry smile after finally arriving to the party, and her relief was palpable.
Halep was forced to defend as her opponent began to find good depth with her groundstrokes as the set progressed. She rose to the challenge, though, and successfully fended off three break-points to maintain her slim advantage.
Stepping up to the line at 3-5, Mertens was attempting to prolong the contest, but despite a valiant effort, she was unable to prevent Halep from registering another victory.
It took the Romanian until her fifth match-point to seal the deal, and she will tackle Kristyna Pliskova in the third round tomorrow. The Czech qualifier overcame Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-5 6-2 to earn a shot at the best player in the world.
Another Czech, Petra Kvitova, is also through. The Prague Open champion continued her winning run by defeating Monica Puig 6-3 7-6(8).
Johanna Konta suffered an early exit after a second round loss to Bernarda Pera.The American, who defeated the Brit at the Australian Open in January, was a 6-4 6-3 victor in the Spanish capital.
The Australian Open champion, who has aspirations of becoming world No.1 again if she can better Simona Halep’s result, trailed her creative opponent by four games to two in the decider before reeling off four games in succession to seal victory.
“She [Barty] played extremely well, I thought,” admitted Wozniacki. “She wasn't making any errors at one point. I think it kind of turned around when I got that net-cord. It went over, and instead of being 5-2 for her in the third [set], I still had a chance to kind of survive.
“I think that's where it changed a little bit. I just kind of stayed in it, and then I served pretty well to close it off.”
Maria Sharapova’s encouraging start to the tournament continued with a 7-5 6-1 triumph over Irina-Camelia Begu. The Russian will encounter Kristina Mladenovic next, who defeated Shuai Zhang 6-4 4-6 6-3.
“It was a lot of hard work,” the five-time Grand Slam champion told the WTA website. “Obviously being down a break to start off both of those sets didn't make things easy for me.
“Although I didn't play at my best level in the first set, I pulled it through. I played some really tough points. I hung in there especially in that final game. Then I really set up a good opportunity for me to step up.”
Elsewhere on the grounds, Carolina Garcia overcame Petra Martic 6-3 7-5, Kiki Bertens brushed past Anastasija Sevastova 6-1 6-4 and Julia Goerges came from behind to dismiss Lara Arruabarrena 2-6 6-4 6-2.
The former world No.1 registered the biggest win of his season by defeating Kei Nishikori 7-5 6-4 in the most high-profile first round clash at a Masters event in quite some time.
Djokovic recovered from a break down to pocket a messy opener, and he pounced in the latter stages of a high quality second set to ensure his stay in the Spanish capital will not be brief.
Nishikori, who reached the final of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters last month, was left to rue his failure to capitalise on a promising first set position. He lacked belief, perhaps due to his dismal record against the Serbian, and wilted under intense pressure at the business end of both sets.
Djokovic, as has often been the case in his previous meetings with the Japanese, exploited his opponent’s tentative second delivery when it really mattered.
Rarely are two Top 20 players pitted against one another in the first round of such a significant event. It took both competitors a period of time to adjust to the lively conditions, and the action took a while to heat up.
Nishikori was first to make a breakthrough and establish a 3-2 lead, however he was pegged back immediately after an untimely double-fault.
Djokovic’s fine returning, reminiscent of his glory years, helped him carve open two set-points on his rival’s delivery in the ninth game, but he was left frustrated as Nishikori averted danger with some precise baseline-hitting.
It was only a minor setback for the former champion, though, and he converted his third set-point in the 12th game. Djokovic slammed a forehand return winner beyond his static opponent to finally wrestle control.
After sealing the opening gambit, Djokovic bellowed with delight. The 30-year-old had been engaged and determined from the first exchange – and his perseverance earned him the reward he sought.
The quality may have fluctuated throughout the first set, but both players were highly effective behind their respective serves in the second set. The games ticked by at pace and break-point chances were at a premium, however Djokovic made his move as a tiebreak loomed large.
Serving to stay in the match, Nishikori stumbled. Djokovic created a match-point opportunity and gleefully took it when his rival clubbed a forehand beyond the baseline.
It’s a big win for Djokovic and supporters, but if he is to finally build momentum, he must overcome Kyle Edmund or Daniil Medvedev in the second round.
Elsewhere in Madrid, Milos Raonic set up an enticing second round clash with Grigor Dimitrov by beating qualifier, Nicolas Kicker, 6-3 6-2. Benoit Paire edged an all-French affair with Lucas Pouille 6-2 6-3 and Dusan Lajovic upset Karen Khachanov 6-3 6-2.
Diego Schwartzman, Federico Delbonis, Damir Dzumhur and Mikhail Kukushkin also advanced.
The British No.1 may have had an up-and-down start to the season, but she performed with gumption against her crafty and dangerous Slovakian opponent.
Konta coped admirably under pressure in the opener. She snatched an early break and overcame some tricky moments on serve before moving halfway towards her intended destination.
The British No.1 encountered turbulence in the second set, though, and slipped a break behind. Rybarikova was in the ascendancy, however Konta responded and then pushed for home.
At five apiece, the Slovakian dumped a sorry-looking backhand slice into the net to concede serve at a critical juncture. Konta clenched her fist as she moved 6-5 ahead, and she was contemplating her next challenge moments later.
It was a big win for Konta over a higher ranked opponent, and she will encounter Bernarda Pera, who defeated Aryna Sabalenka 6-4 2-6 6-3, next.
Defending champion, Simona Halep, tends to thrive in Madrid and Ekaterina Makarova was her latest victim. The world No.1 ruthlessly disposed of the Russian 6-1 6-0 in just 51 minutes.
“I think it was a great match,” the Romanian told the WTA website. “I played really well. Of course, maybe she [Makarova] didn't play her best, but she's always tough to play against. It was a good match and a good start.
“I was moving great. I felt the game and I like to play on this court. Always when I come back here, I feel a little bit more relaxed, so maybe that's why I can touch my best level every time I play. Hopefully, I can keep it also for the next round.”
Maria Sharapova arrived in the Spanish capital without a victory since January, but her losing streak is now over. The former world No.1 toppled Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-4 6-1 to finally get the winning feeling again.
“I want to be winning the right way,” said the reflective Russian. “I want to be making progress. I want to be present. I want to be competing, playing well and improving, but also I want to have a good outlook on things.
“I thought I did a really good job of improving a few things that weren't working well for me in the previous months. I guess that's all that I can expect from myself right now. Just keep putting that effort in on the court.”
Victoria Azarenka, in her first clay-court outing in nearly two years, shimmied past Aleksandra Krunic 6-3 6-3 to start her campaign on the right note. The former finalist will tackle Karolina Pliskova in a blockbuster second round clash on Monday evening.
Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Sloane Stephens all advanced in straight sets on a day of few surprises. Indian Wells winner, Naomi Osaka, is out, though, after a loss Shuai Zhang.