BARCELONA – Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal kicked off his title defense at the Barcelona Open with a hard-fought 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-2 victory on Wednesday over Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer.
“It was not the best start,” Nadal said after coming out on top in two hours and 50 minutes in windy conditions. “Not the best feelings out there this afternoon, but I found a way to keep going and to win the match. Today that’s the main thing.”
Nadal earned the first service break of the match to grab a 5-3 lead, but Mayer broke back, saved a set point on serve en route to getting the contest back on level terms at 5-5 and then forced a tiebreaker.
Mayer, who saved two more set points in the 16-point “breaker,” eventually clinched the first set with a blistering inside-out forehand in the corner.
But Nadal, who suffered a shocking 6-4, 6-2 loss to Italy’s Fabio Fognini in the semifinals of last week’s Monte-Carlo Masters, regrouped at the start of the second set and jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.
Although Mayer continued to make things difficult, Nadal maintained a slim advantage the rest of the set thanks to stepped-up aggressiveness and more accurate ball-striking off the forehand side.
The world No. 63 stayed on serve in the first few games of the decider, but Nadal finally broke free down the final stretch of the contest.
Despite the win, the Spanish 17-time Grand Slam champion said his performance on Wednesday left much to be desired.
“(Mayer) competes well against everybody but probably today (the problem) was not that he competed very well against me. I was not competing that well,” Nadal said.
Up next for Nadal in the tournament’s round of 16 will be his close friend and countryman David Ferrer, who eased past France’s Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday.
Nadal has defeated Ferrer five times in Barcelona, with four of those victories coming in the championship matches of this clay-court event in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Nadal has won a record 11 Barcelona titles, including five in a row from 2005 to 2009.
The 37-year-old Ferrer has announced that he will retire after next month’s Madrid Open, one of the biggest clay-court events on the tennis calendar.