Indian wells - Top seed Rafa Nadal survived a scare from Radek Stepanek before winning his BNP Paribas Open second round match in three tight sets at Indian Wells on Saturday. The Spaniard, in his first match as defending champion, was stretched to the limit before prevailing 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 in night match that lasted two hours, 24 minutes in the California desert.
Nadal served eight double faults and was broken three times, but he also broke his Czech opponent three times, including twice in the final set. The pivotal moment came in the sixth game of the third set, when Nadal fended off three break points to hold serve.
Earlier, Briton Andy Murray recorded his 300th hardcourt victory when he beat Stepanek's compatriot Lukas Rosol in three sets. Fifth seed Murray recovered from a slow start to beat his Czech opponent 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 as the top seeds took to the courts for the first time after receiving first round byes. "I got broken three times in a row the end of the first set, beginning of the second," Murray told reporters. "I just kind of kept going and found a way to win, which is always the most important thing."
Only five active players have won more tour-level hardcourt matches, headed by Roger Federer (575). Seventh seed Federer dominated the first set but was taken to a tie-break in the second before prevailing 6-2, 7-6(5) against French qualifier Paul-Henri Mathieu, while Swiss compatriot and Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka clinched a 6-3, 7-5 win over Croatia's Ivo Karlovic. "It was a difficult match to start against Ivo," said Wawrinka, who didn't face a break point and answered nine aces from Karlovic with eight aces of his own. "It's never easy. He's a tough player. He doesn't give you so much rhythm. "But I'm really happy the way I was playing, the way I was aggressive on the court, and to win in straight sets was really important for me." Australian Lleyton Hewitt failed to notch his 600th career win when he was beaten by South African Kevin Anderson 7-6(5), 6-4. The veteran Hewitt saved 10 of 11 break points but was unable to break the tall 17th seed's powerful serve in the match.
There was high drama in another match as Colombian Alejandro Falla saved a match point at 5-2 down in the third set to beat Polish 18th seed Jerzy Janowicz 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5). On the women's side, top seed Li Na beat Chinese compatriot Zheng Jie 6-1, 7-5. Australian Open champion Li notched six breaks as Zheng struggled on serve. Defending champion Maria Sharapova made short work of her first match, beating German Julia Goerges 6-1, 6-4 in barely an hour. "I thought I did what I had to do," said Sharapova, a former world number one who is trying to reach her first final of 2014.
Nadal said Stepanek was a similarly tough opening opponent, his unpredictability making it hard to get in a groove. "What you want to find in the first (match) is rhythm, and against him every point is different," Nadal said.
Nadal appeared to have gained control of the contest when he won the second set with a single service break and broke again to open the third. He immediately gave the break back, however, and had to save three break points before holding in the sixth game. "It was a tricky situation in the 0-40," said Nadal, who responded to the danger with a service winner, an ace and a backhand passing winner.
"After that, I think I played better," said Nadal, adding that one benefit of the tough match was that it showed him the back trouble that hindered him in his Australian Open loss to Wawrinka - and which was still nagging him when he won in Rio last month - needn't worry him. "Probably that match is going to help me understand that I really can start to serve normal again," he said.