John Isner takes Rafael Nadal the distance for the first time in the Spaniard's career at Roland Garros, but the five-time champion pulls through.
Rafael Nadal's relief at surviving John Isner scare
Rafael Nadal found himself in unfamiliar territory yesterday on Court Philippe Chatrier when he claimed the fourth set of his first round clash with John Isner.
It meant a deciding set was required as Isner had been two sets to one up and, remarkably, it was the first time in Nadal's career that he had gone the full distance in a match at the French Open.
The world No 1 did not have any problems with the new experience as a break in the third game against his big-serving American opponent ensured that he prevailed 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 to ensure his title challenge did not fall at the first hurdle.
The Spaniard, who is a five-time champion at Roland Garros, was relieved to survive the scare that Isner had given him, having never previously lost a set in the first round at the tournament.
"He was a very, very tough opponent. His serve is almost unstoppable at times, so I just want to congratulate him for this fantastic match," Nadal said. "It's important to go through these difficult moments. I would prefer to win in three sets but I'm trying to be positive so maybe that can help me in the future."
It had looked as if it would be a comfortable day at the office for Nadal as he won the first set, but Isner, the world No 39, fought back to win the next two sets on tie-breaks to leave his opponent facing only his second defeat at Roland Garros.
But Nadal fought back and dominated the fourth set with two breaks of serve. He kept his cool in the decider to set up an encounter with compatriot Pablo Andujar in round two.
Nadal did not lose a set on his way to winning the title 12 months ago, and Isner said he could take solace from having pushed the Spaniard so hard.
"I had a feeling that, if I just put forth a good effort and gave it my all, I could give him a good shot and even win the match," he said.
"What it came down to was the way he played in the fourth and fifth sets. I've never seen tennis like that, ever.
"That's why he's number one in the world and one of the greatest players ever."
In other action yesterday, the British fourth seed Andy Murray comfortably moved into the second round by dispatching stylish French qualifier Eric Prodon 6-4, 6-1, 6-3.
He will play Italy's Simone Bolelli for a place in the last 32.
"It was a tough match," said Murray, whose best Roland Garros performance was a quarter-final showing two years ago.
"There was no rhythm to the match at all. He didn't want to have long rallies so he hit a lot of drop shots and changed the pace of the ball."
The fifth-seeded Robin Soderling, who has been runner-up for the last two years at the event, overcame a second-set wobble to defeat American lucky loser Ryan Harrison 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5 to set up an encounter with Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain for a spot in the last 32.
Jurgen Melzer, the Austrian No 8 seed, who was a losing semi-finalist last year, beat Germany's Andreas Beck 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, but there was a shock defeat for 11th-seeded claycourt specialist Nicolas Almagro of Spain.
Almagro has won three claycourt titles this year and reached the Roland Garros quarter-finals on two occasions, but his tournament ambitions ended in a 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 defeat to the Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot.
"He's a very aggressive player and he hit the ball well today," Almagro said. "I started the match well, won the first two sets but then lost the tie-break. I served for the match in the fourth set. He was better than me and, in the end, he beat me."
Kubot, who had never won at the French Open, will now meet Carlos Berlocq of Argentina in the second round.