Paris, May 31: Rafael Nadal came from behind for the second match in a row on Friday at the French Open, surviving another shaky start to beat Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Entering the tournament, seven-time champion Nadal had lost only 14 sets in 53 matches at the French Open. Now he has lost the opening set in each of the first two rounds.
Last year, Nadal dropped one set in the entire tournament en route to a record seventh Roland Garros title.
Forced to wait a day to play because of rain, Nadal lost serve four times and needed nearly three hours to reach the third round. When Klizan's final shot sailed out, Nadal gave the cheering crowd a relieved thumbs-up and managed a weak smile.
“I started a bit too defensive,” he said. “I improved a little bit during the match.”
Nadal also lost the first set of his opening match against Daniel Brands and was down 3-love in the second-set tiebreaker before he rallied.
The Spaniard, now 54-1 at the French Open, seeks to become first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event. Since returning in February from a seven-month layoff because of knee trouble, he's 38-2, reaching the finals at all eight tournaments he has entered and winning six.
Defending women' champion Maria Sharapova moved into the third round by finishing off a rain-interrupted 6-2, 6-4 victory over 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard. The match was suspended on Thursday night with Sharapova up a break in the second set at 4-2, and she was relieved to be finished.
“It was such a long day yesterday, and obviously it's always difficult to have to come back,” Sharapova said.
No. 12-seeded Maria Kirilenko defeated wild card Ashleigh Barty 6-3, 6-1. No. 13 Marion Bartoli of France delighted a partisan crowd on center court by beating qualifier Mariana Duque-Marino 7-6 (5), 7-5.
In other men's play, Tommy Haas became the first 35-year-old since 2007 to reach the French Open's third round, beating 20-year-old American qualifier Jack Sock 7-6 (3), 6-2, 7-5. No. 7 Richard Gasquet of France swept qualifier Michal Przysiezny 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.
Nadal won his 17th match in a row, but it's clear another Roland Garros title won't come easily. Because of the rain delay, he must win six matches in the final 10 days of the tournament to reclaim the trophy.
With an 11 a.m. start on another chilly, damp day in Paris, fans were late arriving at Court Suzanne Lenglen, and it took Nadal a while to get going, too.
The match was his first against the left-handed Klizan, which may have been a factor, and the slender Slovak's aggressive strokes from the baseline quickly made an impression.
“Wow,” Nadal exclaimed after one winner by Klizan whizzed past.
Nadal's shots lacked their usual depth and sting at the outset, and he pushed a forehand wide at the end of a long rally to lose serve for the first time.
Klizan served out the set before Nadal gained a foothold, racing to a 4-0 lead in the second set.
Nadal swept the final eight points of the third set to take command. His groundstrokes started landing beyond the service line more consistently, and dogged defence helped bail him out.