Rafael Nadal was a straight-sets winner at last at the French Open, but there was nothing straightforward about his third-round victory over Fabio Fognini.
The seven-time champion has struggled for anything like his best form at Roland Garros having gone into the tournament with six titles from eight events this season and he battled for two hours and 45 minutes for today’s 7-6 (7/5) 6-4 6-4 victory.
Nadal complained bitterly about the schedule yesterday after his second-round match was delayed, and he will be very happy to have a day off before a fourth-round meeting with Kei Nishikori on Monday.
After dropping the opening set against both Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan, Nadal twice found himself a break down to Fognini, a flashy Italian who mixes blistering winners with baffling mistakes.
The 27th seed served for the first set but made a mess of it and then should have broken back for 5-5 in the second, only to miss the simplest of putaways.
Nadal looked to be racing away with the decider when he lead 5-1 but he was broken to love the first time he served for the match. He made no mistake second time around but serious questions about his form remain.
Both players made a host of unforced errors – 59 for Fognini and 40 for Nadal - and the man hoping to take advantage in the last 16 will be Nishikori.
The 13th seed became the first Japanese man to reach the fourth round here for 75 years with a four-set win over Benoit Paire earlier.
The Frenchman was furious after being penalised a point in the second set for coaching. He had already been given a warning but it was a big call given Paire was set point up at the time.
He went on to win the set anyway, but said: “I think that the chair umpire wanted a promotion. Because at 5-4 advantage for me on set point, to give a warning for coaching, it’s unbelievable.
“They would never do this to the top-five players. They would never issue a warning and apply a penalty point, because they know full well that you just can’t do that type of thing.”
There was also controversy in Mikhail Youzhny’s 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory over eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic.
The Serbian, frustrated by the way the match was going, lost his cool with a pair of spectators in the second set and swore furiously at them.
Tipsarevic said: “I just snapped, because you could really see they didn’t really care what the score was or even who was playing.
“They just wanted to look nice and be at the French Open. They had no respect to the players in terms of being quiet or whatever.
“So at one point I was getting ready to serve at, I think, 30-15 on my serve and one of the guys just started screaming, calling somebody to the stands.
“There is no excuse for my behaviour. I think basically the problem was that I used the F word and that was not pretty. But, on the other hand, I just snapped. It happens to everyone.”
Meanwhile, seventh seed Richard Gasquet continued his smooth progress through the draw with a 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory over Nikolay Davydenko.