Updated: Tuesday, 13 May 2014 22:50 | By Agence France-Presse

Nadal eager to make Spain-Italy switch

Rafael Nadal admitted he was relishing one of the biggest annual changes in clay-court tennis when he begins play at sea-level in the ATP-WTA Rome Masters on Wednesday, just days after winning at altitude in Madrid.

Nadal eager to make Spain-Italy switch

A file picture taken on May 10, 2014 shows Spain's Rafael Nadal returning a ball to compatriot Roberto Bautista during their semi-final match at the Madrid Masters - by Dani Pozo

"Yes it's a big change, but when you are winning it is a lot easier," said the defending champion who is chasing an eighth title at the Foro Italico.

"You always need time to adjust.

"It's nothing crazy, you must work on how you hit the ball. The ball flies more in Madrid (at 800 metres) and you have less control. In Rome you have to hit harder.

"But this is something that I've done a lot over the past years," said the world number one, who claimed his first title in Rome nine years ago in an epic five-set final over Guillermo Coria.

Nadal begins on the second round when he plays Frenchman Gilles Simon, whom he has beaten on five of six occasions.

"There is a different feeling in Rome than Madrid and the conditions are a bit tougher due to the rain (which delayed Tuesday's start of play)," he said.

"This is a tournament that I like and where I've played a lot of important matches and done well."

As usual, the Spaniard who was without a spring European title before winning at home on Sunday, said that Roland Garros is not yet entering his mind.

"We are in Rome, not Paris and I'm only thinking about this tournament. It's always day-by-day, match-by-match for me. When I get to Paris, then it will be time to think of the French Open."

After morning drizzle skies dried, with Croatian Martin Cilic earning the day's opening win 6-4, 2-0 as opponent Santiago Grialdo retired injured.

Second seed Novak Djokovic was making his first start since a Monte Carlo wrist injury when he opens against Czech Radek Stepanek. 

Monte Carlo winner Stanislas Wawrinka, seeded third, was playing his opener against Spanish qualifier Pere Riba.

Madrid WTA winner Maria Sharapova said she does not see herself as the title favourite despite going undefeated on clay so far this season after also winning Stuttgart.

"There's no secret -- playing six matches in eight days is physically challenging as well as mentally. You've just got to face what's ahead of you, just go out there and play," said the world seventh-ranked Russian.

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