LONDON Rafael Nadal made a slow-burning start to his Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday, with the Spaniard caught cold by 80th-ranked Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci before coming through 7-6 6-2 6-3.
The French Open winner, champion at Roland Garros for a record seventh time this year, was 4-0 down in an hour-long first set as his timing went awry in a battle of left-handers under cloudy skies on Centre Court.
Any alarm was momentary with Nadal fighting back to 4-4 and winning the eventual tiebreak 7-0.
The press box benches that had filled halfway through the set emptied just as swiftly knowing that normal service had resumed.
The world number two, perhaps sensing the crowd were growing impatient for the Andy Murray show to follow immediately after, took just half an hour more to go two sets up and wrapped up proceedings in two hours 15 minutes.
"I think today I didn't play my best match," Nadal said with some understatement. "I think especially at the first set I played a little bit too nervous, a little bit not knowing exactly what to do.
"My movements were a little bit in a defensive way, not an aggressive way."
Serving to open the match, Bellucci fired two aces in the first game and then broke Nadal with a lucky net cord that stretched the Spaniard and left him defenseless against the stinging reply.
He held serve, with Nadal firing a return to the net at 40-30, and then chalked up another break when the Spaniard hit low again.
That was about as good as it got for the Brazilian against an opponent who has never lost a first round match in any grand slam tournament.
With cries of 'Vamos Rafa' echoing around the court, Nadal powered back with a sense of momentum.
With the crowd in no doubt about the outcome, the mood lightened.
"Come on Rafa, don't give up," some humorous soul shouted as the world number two was briefly pegged back by Bellucci to 30-30 at 5-3 in the third set.
"Come on, Andy," declared another more impatient voice to a ripple of appreciative laughter.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)