Rafael Nadal takes five sets to progress at Roland Garros
Tuesday 24 May 2011
World number one Rafael Nadal overcame a major scare from marathon man John Isner to book his place in the second round of the French Open in five sets.
The defending champion, who did not lose a single set on his way to the title in 2010, found himself 2-1 down today after the the big-serving American held his nerve to clinch back-to-back tie-breaks.
But Nadal, 24, belatedly found his form to seal a 6-4 6-7 (2/7) 6-7 (2/7) 6-2 6-4 win and a second-round meeting with compatriot Pablo Andujar.
World number 39 Isner, 26, is best known for his win over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon last year in the longest match in professional tennis history, but he came mightily close to eclipsing that achievement here.
There was little hint of a shock on the cards when Nadal, who had won both previous meetings between the pair, broke for a 4-3 lead in the opening set, duly serving out before breaking again early in the second.
But Isner levelled at 4-4 and took the set into a tie-break, which the American dominated.
Nadal sent an attempted pass into the net to set up four set points, but Isner only needed one.
Isner stayed with his opponent through the third set without causing many problems on his opponent's serve.
And when Nadal worked him around the court in game 12 to earn two set and break points, it appeared his resistance was broken.
But an ace and an unreturnable first serve took the game to deuce, before a couple more big serves brought about a second tie-break.
Isner, who has never been further than the third round at Roland Garros, secured the early mini-break, before Nadal went into the net to once again give his opponent four set points, and the American sent in a classy return to seal a shock 2-1 lead.
Isner held from 30-0 down to open the fourth set, but the Spaniard broke in game three and when Isner pushed a volley wide in game seven, Nadal was 5-2 up with a double break. He duly served out to level at 2-2.
A stunning backhand return from a wickedly kicking Isner serve gave the Spaniard three break points in game three, and Isner netted to give Nadal the advantage.
Isner had a sniff of a chance when he had 15-30 on Nadal's serve in game six, but once Nadal held it was only a matter of time, though Isner saved a match point and pushed him all the way.
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