Madrid: Four-time champion and home-crowd favorite Rafael Nadal struggled to a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 win over Fabio Fognini of Italy in just under three hour to reach the third round at the Madrid Open on Wednesday.
The victory left Nadal on track to play a semi-final against defending champion Novak Djokovic, who recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the third set to defeat Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. Djokovic rallied in the final set by breaking Almagro to go up 6-5 and served out to earn his 15th win of the season in over two hours.
"I haven't played bad, I played really bad," Nadal said. "It was uncomfortable."
Nadal will play Nick Kyrgios of Australia, who defeated Ryan Harrison of the United States 6-3, 6-3. The second-seeded Djokovic will play veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who got past Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
Djokovic cruised in the first set by breaking the 76th-ranked Almagro three times. The Spanish wild card entrant rallied in front of the home crowd in the second set, saving all four break points he conceded and breaking at 4-5 to eventually extend the match.
Almagro was two points away from going up 4-2 in the final set but was not able to capitalize on his chances.
It was an important opening-round win for the second-ranked Djokovic as he tries to turn his season around and regain his form going into the French Open later this month.
"When you're not winning too many matches, you have to build the confidence level," Djokovic said. "So to win the matches like this definitely helps confidence."
Djokovic won in Doha to start the season but never made it past the quarter-finals in the following four tournaments he played. In his first clay-court tournament, in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was eliminated by David Goffin in quarter-finals.
"I'm still finding my way to that consistency level and quality of tennis that I'm looking for," Djokovic said. "I'm aware that I'm not playing at my best, but I'm definitely believing in myself and the process. Eventually the game will come together. I can take a lot of positives from today."
Djokovic had his playing time diminished this year because of an elbow injury. Wednesday's match was his first since splitting with longtime coach Marian Vajda.
Nadal had a tough start against Fognini, needing to save 10 of 12 break points conceded to the Italian in the first set alone. Fognini served for the set at 5-4 but was not able to capitalize on his chance. He threw his racket on the ground three times in a row after losing a decisive point in the tiebreaker.
It was the 11th straight win for Nadal, and his tour-leading 30th victory for the year. The fifth-ranked Spaniard has won 22 of his last 24 sets.
"Even though I played really badly, my attitude has been very positive," Nadal said. "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 was coming off titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and had made it to three finals earlier in the year.
Fognini had three career wins over Nadal, including one in the 2015 U.S. Open, but had lost the last three in straight sets.
Fifth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada defeated Gilles Muller of Luxemburg 6-4, 6-4, while sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan recovered from a slow start to beat Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 1-6, 6-0, 6-4.
Nishikori, a finalist in Madrid in 2014, is playing in his first tournament since March. He withdrew from Barcelona last month because of a right wrist injury.
"In the beginning I wasn't playing 100 percent," Nishikori said. "But in the second and third (sets) I was feeling pretty good on the court, moving well, so I was very happy."
Nishikori will play in the third round against Spaniard David Ferrer, who advanced after 10th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France withdrew before the match because of a shoulder injury.
Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic defeated Robin Haase of the Netherlands 7-6 (5), 6-3,
In the women's draw, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada advanced to the quarter-finals after top-seeded Angelique Kerber retired with a left thigh injury in the second set.
Bouchard was leading 6-3, 5-0 when her German opponent pulled out.
Third-seeded Simona Halep of Romania defeated 16th-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Eighth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia defeated Qiang Wang of China 6-4, 7-5, while 14th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic of France defeated countrywoman Oceane Dodin 6-2, 6-1.
Updated Date: May 11, 2017 09:50 AM