Barcelona Open: Rafael Nadal battles past Leonardo Mayer to set up clash with David Ferrer
Top seed was again below his best but did enough to see off the Argentine
Rafael Nadal admitted he struggled to "compete" against Leonardo Mayer after the world No 2 battled past the Argentine to reach the third round of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday.
Playing in his first match since a shock semi-final defeat to Fabio Fognini at the Monte Carlo Masters - a performance Nadal rated as his "worst on clay in 14 years" - the top seed again fell short of his immeasurably high clay court standards in a hard-fought 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
The Spaniard surrendered a 5-3 lead in the first set and then spurned two set points in the tiebreak, which Mayer, ranked 63 in the world, edged thanks to an impressive crosscourt forehand winner.
Nadal, who has won the Barcelona Open a record 11 times, had not lost a set in the tournament since a last-16 match against Fognini in 2015, winning 30 sets in a row until he met Mayer.
Nadal was in danger of losing two consecutive matches on clay for the first time in his career, but he bounced back immediately by breaking his opponent in the second set opener.
Nadal, who was playing on a court named after him, broke the Argentine twice more in the decider to set up an all-Spanish third round tie with David Ferrer, who eased past Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-1.
Given his remarkable dominance on European clay courts, it has been a subdued start to this year's swing for the 11-time French Open champion.
“It has been a tough start, not the best feeling this afternoon,” Nadal, 32, said. “I just found a way to keep going to win the match.
“He competed well against me and I was probably not competing very well. The attitude was correct and I worked to be able to continue in the tournament.”
Nadal next faces compatriot Ferrer, who is competing in his final Barcelona Open during part of his farewell season. The two Spaniards have played each other 31 times, with Nadal coming out on top in 25 matches, including the 2013 Roland Garros final, and were also Davis Cup teammates.
Nadal said he is looking forward to taking on his friend in what could be their final meeting.
“He is a good friend,” Nadal said. “One of the best players that we have been watching the last 18 years. It is going to be a special one so let’s see.”
Osaka's revenge mission
On the WTA Tour, world No 1 Naomi Osaka will have a chance for revenge on Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei when the two meet in the second round of the WTA tournament in Stuttgart.
Hsieh came from behind to beat China's Wang Qiang in three sets 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday to set up a second round clash with Osaka, whom she beat in Miami last month.
Osaka beat Hsieh on the way to her Australian Open triumph in January, but the experienced Taiwanese caused an upset in March when she inflicted an early exit on the Japanese star at the Miami Open.
The two players are now set to lock horns again, with their second round clash scheduled for Thursday.
Dubai champion Belinda Bencic also advanced to the second round in Stuttgart after a comfortable win over Mandy Minella 6-2, 6-4.
Updated: April 24, 2019 10:09 PM