Nadal's clay supremacy tested again as he grinds out win over Mayer in Barcelona Open

After falling to Fabio Fognini on Monte Carlo clay, Nadal dropped the first set in Barcelona against Leonardo Mayer before battling through in the round of 32.

Nadal is vying for a record 12th title at a single tournament in Barcelona, an attempt he failed at the Monte Carlo Masters last week.   -  ap

Rafael Nadal came close to losing two consecutive matches on clay for the first time in his 19-year tennis career, but prevailed in three sets against Argentine journeyman Leonardo Mayer in the round of 32 of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday. 

Nadal served for the opening set at 5-4, but was broken by the world No. 63. He again served for the set at 6-5 in the tiebreak, but Mayer came out on top at 9-7. 

The top seed then broke Mayer once in the second and twice in the third to close out the match 6-4, 6-2. 

Nadal is vying for a record 12th title at a single tournament in Barcelona, an attempt he failed at the Monte Carlo Masters last week. The Spaniard has 11 titles each at the French Open, Monte Carlo and Barcelona – the only man to have done so. Roger Federer, with nine at the Swiss Indoors at Halle, is next best. 

At Monte Carlo, eventual champion Fabio Fognini broke Nadal six times on his way to a shock 6-4, 6-2 semifinal win. When Nadal lost the opening set on Wednesday, it was only the third time in his career – spanning nearly 19 years and 1,124 matches with 932 wins before the Barcelona Open – that he had lost three consecutive sets on his favourite surface, clay. 

The first time that had happened was 10 years into his career, when he lost the final of the Madrid Open to Novak Djokovic in straight sets and the first set of his round of 32 tie against Paolo Lorenzi at the Italian Open. The second was when Djokovic dismantled him 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in the 2015 French Open quarterfinals.