Basel, Switzerland: Rafael Nadal rallied from the depths to narrowly prevent a repeat of one his his worst career losses as he beat Lukas Rosol 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) at the Swiss Indoors on Monday.
Three years ago, the then number 69 journeyman famously upset world number two Nadal in the 2012 Wimbledon second round. This time, Nadal had to make numerous recoveries, the last from 4-2 down in the final-set tiebreaker, before finally prevailing. "I thought I was out of here," said Nadal after his narrow first-round escape. "It was the first match on indoor hardcourt for me in almost a year.
"He's tough to play, he came to the court with big confidence. He was trying to hit the ball hard on every shot. "I had a tough time adjusting. I just tried to survive the second set and wait for my opportiunities. I'm very happy to have survived and still be playing." World number seven Nadal escaped a repeat disappointment after losing in the first round here 12 years ago to countryman Feliciano Lopez.
He made a dismal start as he lost the opening set in just 23 minutes. The third seed, whose game looked a shambles through much of the first two sets, finally came to life in the nick of time, breaking Rosol with the Czech leading 5-4 and serving for the match. Nadal, whose first forehand winner only came in the first game of the second set, found a backhand winner down the line to break for 5-5.
The former world number one and 14-time Grand Slam winner then seized the momentum with a break in the final game on a third match point as his nervous opponent double-faulted. Nadal found his form, breaking Rosol for 2-0 and saving a pair of break points for a 3-0 lead. But he lost the momentum and the set went into a tiebreaker, which the Czech led 4-2. Nadal slowly reeled in the potential spoiler, claiming a match point at 5-4 and finishing it off seconds later.
"I was only thinking about trying to find a way to win the next point," Nadal said, adding that he has come back a lot of times in tough situations, but this year has been different. "I've lost matches that I was winning. But the last few weeks have helped for building the confidence. And the crowd support was very important for me."
Nadal has already qualified for the eight-man World Tour Finals next month, but was carrying solid momentum from a Beijing final and Shanghai semi-final into the European indoors swing which ends next week at Paris Bercy. Since his Wimbledon loss, Nadal had beaten Rosoal twice in 2014 -- including a revenge win in July at Wimbledon in the second round.
Defending champion Roger Federer, who is chasing a seventh title in his homeland, has reached 11 finals in Basel and has a record of 56-9. He opens his bid for more home success on Tuesday when he faces Kazakh outsider Mikhail Kukushkin while compatriot and second seed Stan Wawrinka is also in the field and plays Croatian big-server Ivo Karlovic.
In the first round on a quiet opening day, Adrian Mannarino beat Serb Viktor Troicki 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/3) while Dominic Thiem of Austria put out Dutch qualifier Robin Haase 0-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5. Swiss wild card Henri Laaksonen lost in the Basel first round for the third time without a win, going down to American Donald Young 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.