Rafael Nadal toils against wildcard in first ATP match since shock U.S. Open exit

    Story highlights

    • Nadal struggles in return to ATP Tour
    • Spaniard eventually beats Wu Di in Beijing
    • U.S. Open champ Djokovic crushes Bolelli

    (CNN)Rafael Nadal insists he is motivated and feeling better on court than during the first half of 2015, when he admitted to "suffering." But judging by his outing at the China Open on Tuesday, the vintage Nadal is still a long way away.

    Even after receiving a gentle first-round draw, the 14-time grand slam winner toiled against local wildcard Wu Di before progressing 6-4 6-4 in Beijing in his first ATP Tour match since a shock exit to Fabio Fognini at the U.S. Open in early September.
      At one point in the second set, Wu -- who has never been ranked inside the top 160 and owns no titles on the second-tier Challenger circuit -- claimed 11 of 13 points. The world No. 230 led 4-2, only to see the third-seeded Spaniard claim the last four games to set up a second-round clash with the much more established Canadian Vasek Pospisil.
      "(It) looked like the match was under control with 6-4 1-0, but then the situation changed," Nadal was quoted as saying by the ATP. "I think I played little bit too much far away from the baseline. But the last three games of the match I was playing better. I hit some good forehands down the line and that's why I finished the match well and with the victory."
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      While retired American Andy Roddick is adamant his fellow former world No. 1 will never win another grand slam title, Nadal -- now ranked eighth -- expects a return to form "sooner or later."
      "(I'm) practicing well, the level of tennis going to be there sooner or later," added Nadal, who failed to reach the semifinals at any major this year. "I am working a lot to make that happen. I think I'm closer to that.
      "I know it is obvious that I need results to confirm that, but we are almost at the end of this season and I have time to keep playing the last tournaments of the year with the chance to practice the things that I need to do for next year."
      While Nadal has endured his most difficult season, Novak Djokovic is having his finest. He won three of the four majors and became the second man in the last 45 years, following Roger Federer, to appear in all four grand slam finals.
      That form, coupled with his past success at the China Open, means world No. 1 Djokovic is an overwhelming favorite to win a record-extending sixth title in Beijing. And the three-time defending champion began his week by crushing flashy Italian shot-maker Simone Bolelli 6-1 6-1 in his first match since defeating Federer in the final at Flushing Meadows three weeks ago.
      Wu's fellow Chinese wildcard Zhang Ze will try to derail the Serb in the second round.