'Nervous' Nadal Feared Worst at French Open
Rafael Nadal admitted he feared he might never break John Isner's huge serve, after coming through a thrilling five-set match against the American to reach the French Open second round.
The defending champion and top seed, bidding for a record-equalling sixth Roland Garros crown, was staring down the barrel of a shock elimination after allowing Isner to establish a 2-1 sets lead.
Nadal re-asserted control of proceedings in the fourth set, however, before completing a 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 6-4 victory that sets him up for a second-round meeting with countryman Pablo Andujar.
"I was close to going out. That's the thing," conceded Nadal.
"I didn't have a way to find a break. I had 15-40 at 6-5 in the second set but he was still serving fantastic and he produced two big serves.
"They were tough moments for me, but I only had one break point against me during the whole match.
"I didn't play the tie-breaks well. I played too nervous, in my opinion. But for the rest of the match, it was 6-2, 6-4, and I was in control of everything, without playing fantastic."
Having never previously lost a set in a first-round match at Roland Garros, Nadal said he embarked upon the fourth set with real fear that it might be his last at this year's tournament.
"The turning point was the first break in the fourth set," he said.
"It was very important for me. I was really, really under pressure. I know I have six games to get a break, because if it goes to a tie-break in the fourth, I know I am in big danger."
Isner memorably shaded France's Nicolas Mahut in a record-breaking five-setter at Wimbledon last year that lasted over 11 hours and finished 70-68 in the final set.
He did not appear to enjoy any physical advantages over Nadal in the latter stages of Tuesday's match, however, and the Spaniard said he had taken heart from his own record over five sets.
"I think I have a good record in five sets," said the nine-time Grand Slam-winner, who has lost just three times in 15 five-set matches.
"I got the break early in the fifth set. If it had been 4-4 or 5-5 without a break, it would have been very dangerous."
He added: "This is one of the times I was close to going out. But I have had other tough matches.
"Was I closer to losing (against Isner) than the other times? Maybe yes. But in my opinion, I had the match under control."
Isner conceded that his own tactics had been fairly rudimentary, and admitted that he simply could not compete when Nadal upped his game in the final two sets.
"Going in, my only shot today was to attack and try to get on the offensive as much as possible," said the 26-year-old, who is ranked 39 in the world.
"Luckily for me, I have a good serve, so I was able to win a fair amount of cheap points against him, which not many players can. So that helps.
"For me, specifically against him, (the objective was) just to get into the net, keep trying to keep the points shorter and just try and finish the point at the net, win or lose.
"There was a couple of instances where he passed me two or three times in a row, but I kept coming because I knew that was my only shot.
"As far as his weaknesses go, I don't know. He doesn't really have too many. He's lost one match here ever (to Robin Soderling in 2009), so it's hard to say if he has any weaknesses."