BEIJING • World No. 1 Rafael Nadal saved two match points to avoid a shock defeat in the first round of the China Open, seeing off Lucas Pouille in three sets yesterday.
The Frenchman broke Nadal on the way to taking the first set 6-4, and the world No. 23 came within a whisker of sealing an upset when the second set went to a tie-break.
But Nadal, with the Beijing crowd backing him on the outdoor hard court, fought back to win it 8-6.
In the third set, the Spaniard got the critical break of serve in the 11th game before serving for the set and match to win 7-5.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion tumbled and lost a shoe at one point, and said afterwards he was fortunate to be in the second round.
"He played well, I think, very aggressive. He's serving well," said Nadal, who lost to Pouille in their only other meeting - at last year's US Open round of 16. "For me it was a little bit difficult at the beginning, then I started to play better. But still, I didn't have the control of the match for almost all the time. I am very, very happy to be through."
Also into the second round in the men's draw are Australia's Nick Kyrgios, former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, American John Isner and third seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.
In the women's draw, Maria Sharapova advanced to a third-round clash with world No. 2 Simona Halep after defeating fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 yesterday.
Sharapova, No. 104 in the world and on a wild card at the China Open, has yet to win a tournament since returning from a 15-month doping ban. And she believes her next match will help her gauge progress since returning to competitive action in April.
The five-time Grand Slam champion said she had endured "a few ups and downs" in seeing off Makarova. But she is relishing her showdown with Halep.
The meeting will be a replay of the first-round match between the pair at the US Open in August, when Sharapova made an impressive return to Grand Slam competition before exiting in the fourth round. She boasts a 7-0 record against the Romanian, who made it into the next round after Magdalena Rybarikova retired ill in the second set.
"We know each other's games very well, that's no secret," Sharapova, 30, said. "They've always been very challenging, tough, competitive, emotional. But I love the challenge of playing against someone that's No. 2 in the world.
"She's a great player, she's had a great year. Any time you're able to face an opponent that's done something right and well, it's great to see where you are and where your level is."
ATP CHINA OPEN
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