Rafael Nadal fended off four set points in a third-set tiebreak as he demonstrated extreme patience to finish off Simone Bolelli, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11-9), in a rain-delayed French Open first-round match Tuesday.
The eventual scoreline made the victory look easier than it was as the reigning champion muscled his way through dogged resistance in a match that was halted by inclement weather Monday.
The Italian had chances to take the match into a fourth — none more so than in the tiebreak — but Nadal, who failed to drop a set throughout his charge to the 2017 crown, held firm, keeping the pressure on until Bolelli netted a routine forehand on match point.
The top seeded Nadal, bidding for an 11th title in Paris and his 17th major, next faces Argentina’s Guido Pella for a place in the last 32.
“I really suffered today but it was a good test,” said Nadal who had been in danger of dropping his first set at Roland Garros since his 2015 quarter-final loss to Novak Djokovic.
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“It was very difficult. Simone is a very good player and he had lots of chances and was very agrressive.
“But I am happy to have won here on this court, the most important of my career.”
Bolelli was fearless from the outset, with nothing to lose. Nadal, after all, had won his 10th French Open title in 2017 without dropping a single set and has been in imperious form, arriving in Paris with a 19-1 record on clay this year.
Even in defeat, Bolelli said he would be leaving Paris happy.
“It gives me a lot of confidence, I played a really good tennis,” the Italian said. “I think maybe I deserved the third set. But Rafa is like this, you have to go after every point, pushing and pushing.”