Nadal struggles but advances in Toronto opener

August 11, 2010 11:41 PM
Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning his opening match

TORONTO (AP) -- Rafael Nadal stood out under overcast skies with a fluorescent pink shirt and a headband that glowed under the lights, but the world's top-ranked tennis player had to work hard to distinguish himself against his first opponent at the Rogers Cup on Wednesday night.

The 24-year-old wrestled through a marathon first set tiebreak before he was finally able to shake Swiss challenger Stanislas Wawrinka with a 7-6 (12), 6-3 win.

"My goal was to win,'' Nadal said. "When you come back after (some) time without playing, tournaments are always difficult. I just tried my best and tried to find my rhythm.''

Nadal arrived in Toronto in the midst of a season he aptly described as being "more than a dream,'' having acquired the French Open and Wimbledon titles among five tournament victories on the ATP World Tour.

He proclaimed himself to be in fine physical fitness, with no concern for his meddlesome knees as he sought to recapture a title he last won two years ago. Nadal has twice won the Canadian event, having defeated none other than Andre Agassi for his first title in 2005.

Wawrinka, ranked 24th in the world, is not in that class, though it was often hard to tell on Wednesday night. The 25-year-old from Switzerland battled Nadal through the first set, breaking the Spaniard's serve moments after he had his serve broken.

He matched Nadal deep into the first set tiebreak, fending off whatever the lanky Spaniard could muster. Nadal had a chance to put it away at 10-9, but sent his return into the net as Wawrinka tumbled to the ground on the other side.

Nadal finally took it, 14-12, on serve, to end the first set after 92 minutes. It matched the longest tiebreak of Nadal's career - a mark he set two years ago in the quarterfinal round of the Canadian event.

"There's a lot of pressure on every point,'' Nadal said. "But if you win, it gives you a lot of confidence.''

He broke a tiring Wawrinka to go up 3-1 in the second set, and will face South Africa's Kevin Anderson on Thursday.

"I had difficult moments, I had moments where I played well,'' Nadal said. "I did a little bit of everything, and that's very positive.''

Novak Djokovic earned a 7-5, 7-5 win over France's Julien Benneteau earlier on Wednesday. Andy Murray, the defending champion who is ranked fourth in the world, beat Belgium's Xavier Malisse 7-5, 6-2.

"I feel good,'' Murray said. "Today could have been a little bit better from the start, but the first one's tough and I was playing against a very good player.''

Djokovic won the Canadian tournament three years ago, having beaten both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. He has reached the quarterfinals in each of the past two years.

The 23-year-old arrived to a rude reception in Toronto earlier this week. He and Nadal were ousted from doubles.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko rolled to a 7-5, 6-1 win over Italian Fabio Fognini in an early match.