Rafael Nadal defeats feisty Simone Bolelli in French Open 2018 opener

Rafael Nadal overcame a spirited show of aggressive groundstroke hitting by lucky loser Simone Bolelli as he launched his campaign for an eleventh crown at the Roland Garros with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(9) victory on Tuesday.

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 defences. Two audacious backhand passing shots on the Nadal first serve and several disguised drop shots brought loud gasps from the crowd.

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Nadal 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.

“It was a very difficult match. Simone played so aggressive, he had so many chances in the third (set),” Nadal told the centre court crowd.

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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 break in the bag and hitting ferociously at the Nadal baseline. Yet he was unable to break through and squandered four set points.

“It was a good test for me,” Nadal said.