After a rocky first set, Rafael Nadal recovered to defeat Radek Stepanek in three sets, but it was anything but easy.
The final score was 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 at the BNP Paribas Open. Stepanek's power was a major issue for Nadal, but Stepanek couldn't win the clutch points in the third set.
On the strength of four aces, Stepanek took control of the first set from the beginning.
In the second set, Nadal still had some difficulties with Stepanek's serve, but he was impeccable off his own serve. The world No. 1 won all 16 of his first-service points.
In the third set, Stepanaek had Nadal where he wanted him but couldn't put him away. Nadal was down 5-4 and serving to stay alive, and Stepanek didn't come up with the key break.
Nadal, the top seed in the tournament, received a bye in the first round. The 27-year-old Spaniard is still trying to bounce back from a painful defeat in the final of the Australian Open.
A blister and red-hot Stanislas Wawrinka proved to be too much for him in Melbourne. Per CNN.com, Nadal talked about the loss to Wawrinka:
"I am a great loser. Normally after a few hours I forget about the losses and look straight to the next thing, but after this tournament it took a little bit more time."
Had he lost this match, he would have had another tough memory to shake.
The tough assignments are just beginning for Nadal in this tournament, as Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times points out:
Rafael Nadal survives a surprisingly big scare from Radek Stepanek, winning 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. The tough Alex Dolgopolov looms next. #BNPPO14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 9, 2014
Alexandr Dolgopolov is an unorthodox player whose array of shots can be a problem for his opponents. Nadal hasn't had any issues with him in the past.
Nadal has won all five of the men's previous meetings. We'll see if he can continue his dominance.
Stats per ATP World Tour.