Well, that was short and not very sweet.
It all seemed to be going OK in his first match when he trounced Nikolay Davydenko, 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour and a half. Since Davydenko is one of the very few players with a positive head-to-head over Rafa, this was a satisfying win. Although, arguably, Davydenko is not the player he used to be, he had beaten Rafa in their last six meetings on a hard court but he'd never beaten him on clay.
After the match, Rafa said, "I played much better than I expect. The (blue) court ... doesn't make you feel comfortable. It's difficult, hard to attack and come back to defend. You just have to try and adapt."
Round 3 was a very different ballgame. Rafa looked like a different player against Fernando Verdasco. He was tentative and seemed reluctant to chase down any ball. He said afterwards, "The movements are important for me and here I cannot move so I cannot hit the ball the way that I want."
Despite a great comeback after the first set, he lost the match, 3-6, 6-3, 5-7.
He didn't blame the loss entirely on the blue courts, giving credit to Verdasco - "He played better than me and beat me."
However, he did declare, in no uncertain terms, that he would not return next year if the courts were not changed.
"If things continue, [there] will be one less tournament in my calendar. I think the tournament is great but that [changing the courts] is a bad decision. If you put the Cincinnati tournament on grass just before the US Open, do you think people are going to be happy? I don't think so. I am not prepared to risk something happening next year if nothing changes."
On to the more traditional clay courts of Rome.