Rafael Nadal has survived an early scare at the Barcelona Open, coming from a set down to beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer to 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 No.2 avoided a surprise defeat ahead of the start of the French Open next month.
However fans were shocked when Nadal dropped the first set – the first set he’s lost in four years in Barcelona.
He was also just a few games away from losing back-to-back matches on clay for the very first time in his 18-year career.
Many were left wondering if all is not right with his body.
Rafael Nadal has never in his career lost back-to-back matches on clay. Never. Going back to 2001! It’s a few games from happening now.
— Justin Bryant (@Keepers_Union) April 24, 2019
What is going on with Nadal? Every time I check the score and I think things are on track, it goes bad
— DG (@Bestof5forever) April 24, 2019
What is going on? Nadal is not finding his form. I'm concerned.
— Ian van Zyl (@HabibiSouth) April 24, 2019
What is going on with Nadal? It's so sad to watch. He looks so dead out there
— Noni Mzileni (@NoniMzileni) April 24, 2019
Just seen Nadal’s highlights and bloody hell he is struggling. What’s with the flat backhands and flat trajectory of his forehand. His game looks more suited to a fast hardcourt. Bizzare how his game doesn’t suit clay right now #BarcelonaOpen #ATP
— AR (@Athique57) April 24, 2019
Can we say that with Nadal so below par, Djokovic, Zverev, Wawrinka, Thiem struggling, Federer has real chances to win the @rolandgarros ?
A bit early, but…
— Tennistonic (@tennistonic) April 24, 2019
Rafael Nadal survives in Barcelona! 6-7(7) 6-4 6-2 over Leonardo Mayer although he is definitely struggling with his movement at the moment. Renews his rivalry with David Ferrer tomorrow. #ATPBarcelona
— Tony Fairbairn (@fairbairntony8) April 24, 2019
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.
“It was a tough start, I didn’t have the feeling this afternoon. I just found a way to keep going and win,” admitted Nadal.
“He competed well and I was probably not competing that well.
My attitude was solid but I had to work hard to stay in the tournament.”
Nadal, who has 25-6 winning record against Ferrer, added: “Playing David is never easy, especially since he’s such a friend. I’m expecting a tough match.”
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 was a shock semi-final loser to Fabio Fognini at the Monte Carlo Masters last week.
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.