PARIS (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal resisted a spirited show of aggressive groundstroke hitting by lucky loser Simone Bolelli as he launched his campaign for an eleventh crown on the terre battue of Roland Garros with 6-4 6-3 7-6(9) victory.
Resuming the match on Tuesday after a thunderstorm ended the previous night’s play early in the third set, Nadal was forced to an entertaining tiebreak to wrap up a hard-fought French Open first round encounter.
Bolelli resumed play as he had ended the night before: sending down missiles at Nadal from his baseline, seeking to prise open the Spaniard’s defenses. Audacious backhand passing shots on the Nadal first serve and delightfully disguised drop shots brought frequent loud gasps from the crowd.
Speaking after the match, Nadal said he should have been more aggressive in response to the Bolelli attack.
“It was difficult today to play so aggressive, being in the first round and against a player who really came on court and decided to play that strong,” Nadal told reporters.
Even so, he maintained the calm and poise of a French Open champion who entered the tournament with a 79-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros, retrieving seemingly impossible balls and letting rip with his own exquisite passing shots.
He survived four set points against him in the tiebreak, coming back from a 3-6 deficit, before finally triumphing.
Bolelli was fearless from the outset, with nothing to lose. Nadal, after all, had won his tenth French Open title in 2017 without dropping a single set and has been in imperious form, arriving in Paris with a 19-1 win-loss record on clay this year.
The world number one grinded out Monday’s first set 6-4 but the Italian kept coming, at times hitting the ball harder and flatter than Nadal to lead by a break in the second before Nadal fought back to take a two-set lead.
Still Bolelli was not yet done, returning to the court on Tuesday with an early third set break in the bag and hitting ferociously at the Nadal baseline. Yet he was unable to break through and squandered four set points.
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 told a post-match news conference. “I think maybe I deserved the third set. But Rafa is like this, you have to go after every point, pushing and pushing.”
Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Martyn Herman and Christian Radnedge