your connection to The Boston Globe

Nadal rallies to beat Baghdatis in Dubai

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Marcos Baghdatis from Cyprus during the 2nd day of Dubai Tennis Championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday Feb. 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates --Defending champion Rafael Nadal, playing his first match since the Australian Open quarterfinals, rallied past Marcos Baghdatis 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 Tuesday in the first round of the Dubai Open.

Third-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, fifth-seeded Tommy Haas and seventh-seeded Novak Djokovic also advanced.

Nadal was broken in the first game and dropped the first set. The Spaniard rebounded in the second set by breaking twice, going up 5-2 on a double-fault by the Cypriot. In the third, Nadal broke in the third game and won on his second match point.

"I was coming out of a long break, and it showed in the first set," Nadal said. "Even though I was practicing hard in the last couple of weeks, it took me some time to get my rhythm on the court."

Baghdatis is 0-4 against Nadal.

"I think the problem is that I still don't believe I can beat guys like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal," Baghdatis said. "That's the main problem. I see them too far ahead of me."

Davydenko beat Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui 6-7 (2), 7-5, 7-5. The Russian said he had trouble with El Aynaoui's serve and the outdoor hardcourt. Davydenko led 4-1 in the final set but El Aynaoui rallied to 5-5.

"It was difficult for me to return his serve after my tough week in Rotterdam," Davydenko said. "It's a different surface and different conditions -- indoors to outdoors and quite windy. I tried to get used to it by practicing on Monday, but obviously haven't as yet."

Haas improved his career-best start to a year to 14-2 by defeating Czech wild card Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3. Djokovic beat Kristof Vliegen of Belgium 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, and Robin Soderling of Sweden downed eighth-seeded David Ferrer 7-6 (13), 6-1 for a fourth straight time.

Other first-round winners included Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, who won his third career title in Rotterdam on Sunday, Gilles Simon of France, Rainer Schuettler of Germany and Daniele Bracciali of Italy.