NEW YORK: Rafael Nadal got his US Open campaign off to a confidence-building start on Tuesday with a 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 win over Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili in a high-quality first round tie that lasted three minutes short of three hours.
The Spanish top seed ran out a comfortable winner in the end, but he was made to work hard by an opponent who went for his shots at every opportunity, especially in a closely contested first two sets.
"Very tough match tonight," Nadal said.
"My serve worked well and I hope to continue like this. It’s not my best shot, but I always work hard at improving it. If I am to have chances to win here one day, I need to serve well."
Games went with serve in the opening set, forcing a tie-break which saw Nadal grab an early mini-break to go 3-1 up. That gave him the cushion he needed as he went on to take it 7-4.
Serves remained on top in the second set under the lights of the Arthur Ashe Centre Court, the biggest stadium in tennis, with Gabashvili staving off two set points at 5-6 down.
But the ensuing tie-break was a near carbon copy of the first with Nadal establishing command early on to make it two sets to nil by an identical 7-4 scoreline.
Seven games into the third set, Nadal finally grabbed his first break of serve in the match, converting his eighth break point when Gabashvili netted a forehand drive.
The Spaniard ran off the next two games for the match, the end coming at 11:30 pm.
Nadal is bidding in New York to become the seventh player in history to complete the career Grand Slam of Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open titles.
If he does so, he would become, at 24, the youngest man in the history of the sport to achieve that fabled feat and the first to do so in New York since Rod Laver in 1962.
It would also make him just the fourth man in the Open era after Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Rod Laver to win three consecutive Grand Slam titles following his back-to-back wins at the French Open and Wimbledon.
But in seven previous US Open campaigns, his best here has been semi-final appearances in the last two years, and Nadal agrees that the surfaces and balls used at Flushing Meadows are the least suited to his game of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
Nadal will next play Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan for a place in the third round.(AFP)