Rafael Nadal survived an early scare at the Barcelona Open on Wednesday by coming from a set down to beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer and seal his place in the last 16.
Nadal, who is attempting to win the tournament for a record 12th time, was made to work hard for his 6-7 (7/9), 6-4, 6-2 victory as the world number two avoided a surprise defeat ahead of the start of the French Open next month.
Fellow Spaniard David Ferrer now awaits Nadal in the next round, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake. Nadal has won all of his last four meetings with Ferrer.
Mayer, ranked 63rd in the world, had never beaten a top-five opponent in 15 attempts but was more than a match for a nervous-looking Nadal in the opening set.
Nadal will be gunning for title number 12 at Roland Garros too and this recovery will have given him much relief, after the 17-time major champion also made an early exit in Monte Carlo earlier this month.
A poor game allowed Nadal to break to love at 4-3 in the first set but Mayer hit back for 5-5 and held on for a tie-break.
Nadal looked in control after recovering from 3-1 and 4-2 down to set up two set points but he squandered both before Mayer took his chance at the first time of asking, a booming forehand enough to clinch the set.
An early break at the start of the second sent Nadal on his way and he served out at 5-4 to take the match to a decider.
Mayer seemed to have lost belief as he dumped a simple backhand volley into the net, allowing his opponent to seize a crucial break at 2-2.
From there, the momentum was set as Nadal whipped a forehand down the line for 5-2 and then served out to complete a hard-fought win.