Roger Federer feared for his French Open existence during his testing second-round win over Argentina’s Jose Acasuso today.
The second seed ended up clinching a 7-6 (10/8) 5-7 7-6 (7/2) 6-2 victory over the world number 45, but could easily have lost the first three sets.
He saved four set points in the first-set tie-break and another one midway through the third set, during which he really lost his way.
The Swiss came through smiling, though, showing decent form in the fourth set, but acknowledged it could have been a different story.
“Yes, we both could have won the first three sets,” he said. “I’m thrilled to have got through such a tough match.
“Coming through a tough match like this is always a great feeling. I’m not part of such close matches that often so when they happen, it’s great to put in the fight when you can.”
There were worrying signs for Federer, bidding to claim the only major title to so far elude him, in a first set which lasted 66 minutes.
He was broken midway through it and then fell 6-3 down in the tie-break. He went on to save four set points before turning things around.
After losing the second set, the 26-year-old Acasuso, who has won just two matches since the end of February, capitalised on a host of errors by the world number two to break twice early on in the third, going 4-0 then 5-1 ahead.
To his credit, Federer managed to stay calm when all around him were reaching for the record books to find out when he last went out this early in a grand slam.
That was in 2003, also at Roland Garros when he crashed out in the first round, but in typical Federer style he came storming back.
He saved a set point when Acasuso was serving at 5-2 up and, after winning five games on the bounce, he had no problems claiming the tie-break as the Argentinian started to lose hope.
The fourth set was a formality and Federer, who won 12 of the last 15 games, felt his superior mental strength got him through sticky moments today.
“In such a match, it comes down to details,” he said.
“Mentally I’ve always been strong but I’m not put in a position like this very often. It was hard because he was playing so well so it was definitely a sign of mental strength (to come through).”
Fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro’s progress into round three, a stage he has never reached before at Roland Garros, was much more serene.
The Argentinian lost just seven games in his opening win over Michael Llodra and was almost as emphatic today, easing past Viktor Troicki 6-3 7-5 6-0.
The 20-year-old may be high up the rankings but he has remained in the shadows this tournament, and was shunted out to Court Seven for today’s match. But that is just the way he likes it.
“That’s okay if the press has decided to focus on the top four. I prefer that,” said Del Potro, who shot up the rankings after a breakthrough summer in 2008.
Del Potro will next play Russia’s Igor Andreev, the 25th seed who battled past Martin Vassallo Arguello in five sets.
Nikolay Davydenko, the 10th seed, will play Stanislas Wawrinka in round three after completing victory over against Argentina’s Diego Junqueira.
Davydenko, a two-time semi-finalist here, was two sets to one ahead when his match was stopped yesterday evening for bad light.
The Russian had no problems when they resumed, clinching a 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-2 victory.
The only other seed to progress today was Tommy Robredo, a straight-sets conqueror of fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Robredo, the 16th seed, will take on Maximo Gonzalez next.