Rafael Nadal had to dig deep against Fabio Fognini to stretch his win streak out to 11 matches on clay. The Spaniard, who set records in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, needed almost three hours to down the Italian 7-6(3) 3-6 6-4.
Fognini started brightly, breaking the Spaniard in the third game of the match, and squandering three break points to take a 4-1 lead. In a topsy-turvey first set the Italian was unable to serve out the opener, with Rafa breaking at the death and taking it in the tiebreak.
Despite starting the stronger, Rafa was unable to take control in the second, with Fognini taking the decisive break to lead 3-1. Again, momentum swung back and forth, but Fognini maintained the advantage to force the decider. With the match on a knife edge, both players struggled before Nadal broke in the final game of the match to seal an important win.
“I think that even though I played really badly, my attitude has been very positive,” Nadal told the ATP. “My attitude and the will to win today’s match was there. My level of tennis was not so high today, but I managed to make it through.”
Nadal will play Nick Kyrgios in the third round, the Australian a 6-3 6-3 winner over Ryan Harrison.
Novak Djokovic was another player forced to dig deep in his opening match on the Madrid clay. Playing in his first tournament without a coach, Djokovic was pushed to three sets by a returning Nicolas Almagro, winning 6-1 4-6 7-5.
What had looked like a routine day at the office for the world No.2 quickly turned into a battle as Almagro grew in confidence. With the match forced into the decider Almagro raced away to a 3-0 lead before Djokovic recovered to secure an important win.
“Obviously when you’re not winning too many matches, you have to build the confidence level, so to win matches like this definitely helps confidence,” Djokovic said. “I hung in there and knew that eventually I’m going to get my chances and going to get some looks on the second serves. When they were presented, I was ready to use them.”
Stan Wawrinka was the biggest casualty of the day, going down 7-5 4-6 6-2 to Benoit Paire; Grigor Dimitrov was a 6-3 7-5 winner over big-serving Ivo Karlovic; Alex Zverev’s run of form continued with a 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4 win over seventh seed Marin Cilic; and Kei Nishikori won a rollercoaster of a match against Diego Schwartzmann 1-6 6-0 6-4.
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