Charleroi: Rafael Nadal celebrated his return to top-level tennis with a straight-sets win over Ruben Bemelmans on Friday to give Spain a 2-0 lead over Belgium in Davis Cup World Group play.
The top-ranked Nadal was dominant in his comeback from a left thigh injury, never giving the world No. 144 a glimmer of hope in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 rout.
"I felt really comfortable with myself and I felt I had the match under control," said Nadal, relieved he had passed his first test since losing in the Australian Open quarterfinals. "It is not easy to come back after a while without competition."
Nadal's first competitive outing sets him up for his ATP return next week at the Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Earlier, Fernando Verdasco beat Xavier Malisse 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 to give Spain the first point.
Spain has yet to lose a set and can wrap up the series with a day to spare by winning the doubles on Saturday. In 2003, Spain beat Belgium 5-0.
It might leave Nadal without a match to play on Sunday if coach Albert Costa decides to use another player.
"The important thing me now is to play matches," Nadal said, "to find the right level, the right rhythm."
After Indian Wells, Nadal will play at the Masters 1000 tournament in Miami before moving to his favored clay surface back in Europe. Ahead of the defense of his French Open title, he will be Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome before heading to Paris.
Verdasco also had a different rhythm problem after being called in as a late substitute for the injured David Ferrer. He suffered some early jitters, with Malisse quickly threatening to take his serve. Verdasco hung on.
"The beginning of the match was the key. You get the confidence," Verdasco said, and from then on he took charge of the first set behind his powerful serve. Even if Malisse won the most spectacular points, he also was sloppiest with unforced errors.
After Belgium had accidentally laid down a hardcourt surface far too slow for its liking, the hosts also found the home-court advantage at the 6,500-Spiroudome further undermined by hundreds and hundreds of cheering and celebrating Spanish fans.
"The Belgian crowd was unbelievable with us," Nadal said. "They made me feel like home."