Rafael Nadal delivers a forehand in full flight during his three-set win over Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday. Photo: Manu Fernandez/AP

BARCELONA – Rafael Nadal survived an early scare at the Barcelona Open on Wednesday by coming from a set down to beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer and seal his place in the last-16.

Nadal, who is attempting to win the tournament for a record 12th time, was made to work hard for his 6-7 (7/9) 6-4 6-2 victory as the world number two avoided a surprise defeat ahead of the start of the French Open next month.

Fellow Spaniard David Ferrer now awaits Nadal in the next round, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.

Nadal has won all of his last four meetings with Ferrer.

Mayer, ranked 63rd in the world, had never beaten a top-five opponent in 15 attempts, but was more than a match for a nervous-looking Nadal in the opening set.

Nadal will be gunning for title number 12 at Roland Garros too, and this recovery will have given him much relief, after the 17-time major champion also made an early exit in Monte Carlo earlier this month. 

A poor game allowed Nadal to break to love at 4-3 in the first set, but Mayer hit back for 5-5 and held on for a tie-break.

Nadal looked in control after recovering from 3-1 and 4-2 down to set up two set points, but he squandered both before Mayer took his chance at the first time of asking, a booming forehand enough to clinch the set.

An early break at the start of the second sent Nadal on his way, and he served out at 5-4 to take the match to a decider.

Mayer seemed to have lost belief as he dumped a simple backhand volley into the net, allowing his opponent to seize a crucial break at 2-2.

From there, the momentum was set as Nadal whipped a forehand down the line for 5-2, and then served out to complete a hard-fought win.

AFP