Rafael Nadal held off a spirited challenge from world number 129 Nicolas Kiefer to earn a place in the US Open third round at Flushing Meadows.
Third seed Nadal, still making his way back from an eight-week injury lay-off due to knee problems that left him unable to defend his Wimbledon title, had looked to be cruising to victory after taking the first set without the loss of a game.
He had not counted on the determination of his German opponent who made him fight for the remainder of the match before Nadal ran out a 6-0 3-6 6-3 6-4 winner at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The victory means Nadal will next play fellow Spaniard and 32nd seed Nicolas Almagro, a five-set winner over American Robbie Ginepri.
Kiefer had not taken a set from Nadal in their previous four meetings and the match had all the makings of a rout when the Australian Open champion broke his serve in the opening game of the match and then won the next to games to love on the way to a 24-minute whitewash.
The second set, though, saw Kiefer not just get on the scoreboard but take the match to Nadal.
The German bounced back from a break in the third game to twice break the Spaniard in the fourth and sixth games, firing an ace to win the set 6-3 as the Ashe crowd got behind .
Nadal’s first break point in the third set came at 4-3 up but Kiefer saved it when the third seed netted a forehand.
He won the next point and marked the occasion with his first real show of emotion but again Kiefer kept the game alive back at deuce.
Back came Nadal, eking out another break point and this time Kiefer lobbed him from the baseline, sending the Spaniard scurrying back to the back of the court from where he sent an overhead shot over his right shoulder and into the net.
Kiefer was the next to earn advantage but a backhand at the net sent it back to deuce as the game moved into its 10th minute.
He was struggling with his first serve but he conjured up a drop shot off his shoelaces to give himself another game point, only to double fault.
It was a costly error as Nadal earned his fourth break point of the game and then saw a long rally finish when Kiefer slipped slightly and sent a backhand into the net.
At 5-3 Nadal was serving for the third set with daylight between him and Kiefer for the first time since the opening set and he did not waste the opportunity to take a 2-1 lead.
Kiefer was continuing to have problems with first serve which had dipped to 41% as the fourth set got under way. Nadal put him under pressure at 1-1 but the underdog managed to stave off the break points and hold serve.
Nadal was having trouble shaking him off and the set continued with serve until the seventh game when a Kiefer double fault handed the third seed double break point and the chance he needed to take control of the match.
Kiefer tried to catch his rival out with a drop shot but Nadal reached it in time and the German responded with a long backhand to give the Spaniard the upper hand at 4-3 as the match moved into Saturday morning in New York.
At 5-3 Kiefer dug deep to keep the match alive, holding serve to leave Nadal to serve for victory.
With the match clock at two hours 59 minutes, Nadal earned two match points and was a relieved winner when Kiefer netted a service return.