Rafa Nadal roared back from 5-2 down in the third set to defeat American Sebastian Korda 6-2 1-6 7-6(3) in the second round at Indian Wells on Saturday and remain unbeaten in 2022.
After cruising through the first set in 35 minutes, the Spaniard struggled to cope with a more aggressive approach from the 21-year-old who stormed through the second.
Nadal’s normally solid serve let him down in the third and he committed his seventh double fault to fall two breaks down in front of a stunned crowd before fighting back to force a tiebreak.
The veteran was then much more composed and sealed the win when Korda’s backhand landed wide.
“Everyone knows this is my favourite place to play and it is amazing to play in front of all you guys,” Nadal told the supportive crowd under blue skies in the Southern California desert.
“I feel very lucky today to be through. Sebastian was playing some fantastic tennis. He had his chances, but that’s tennis.”
The loss will sting for Korda, who grew up idolising the 21-time Grand Slam champion and even named his cat after him.
“He started playing a lot different,” Korda said of Nadal’s play after he fell behind 5-2 in the decider.
“He moved closer to the baseline. I could see that he was a little worried, changing up his tactics. I just didn’t play good games, and he took advantage of it.”
With the win, the three-time Indian Wells champion is now undefeated in 16 matches this year.
Before his match, Nadal announced that he would not compete at the Miami Open, which starts later this month.
Earlier on Saturday, newly-crowned world number one Daniil Medvedev dispatched Tomas Machac 6-3 6-2 to cruise into the third round.
Medvedev’s powerful serve and almost impenetrable defence proved too much for the Czech qualifier to handle.
The Russian received a warm welcome from the crowd on Stadium One when he was introduced as the world’s top men’s player after the match.
“This is the first time I have heard this and people clapped so thanks a lot for the nice welcome,” Medvedev said.
The 26-year-old U.S. Open champion is seeking his first win at the Masters 1000 tournament.
In other second round action, fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas edged Jack Sock 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(5), wild card Nick Kyrgios stormed past Federico Delbonis 6-2 6-2 and rising stars Jenson Brooksby, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz all advanced in straight sets.