Paris: Rafael Nadal excelled when he needed to most, winning the final two sets against John Isner on Tuesday to advance to the second round at the French Open with a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-4 victory.
The five-time champion, who is now 39-1 at Roland Garros, played a five-set match at Roland Garros for the first time in seven visits.
"Always it's very, very close match against John because with his serve he arrives to the tiebreak and you play under pressure all the time," Nadal said. "For moments in the tiebreak I didn't play very well. I was probably too nervous."
Nadal last lost a set at the French Open in 2009, when he was eliminated by Robin Soderling in the fourth round. He had never previously dropped a set in the first or second round.
Nadal came into the tournament after losing to Novak Djokovic on clay in finals in Rome and Madrid. But the top-ranked Spaniard is still considered by many to be the favorite at Roland Garros.
That didn't seem to matter — at first anyway — to Isner, the man best known for playing in the longest tennis match in history last year at Wimbledon.
Despite losing the first set, the tall American held strong and forced Nadal into a pair of tiebreakers, where his big serve helped him put Nadal on the defensive.
But with only six unforced errors the rest of the way — none in the fourth set — Nadal proved he is still the man to beat on clay.