Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Rafael Nadal battles doubts and misfiring service to win Indian Wells opener

updated 10:42 AM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
Rafael Nadal had to dig deep to see off the challenge of veteran Czech Radek Stepanek.
Rafael Nadal had to dig deep to see off the challenge of veteran Czech Radek Stepanek.
  • Rafael Nadal taken to three sets in Indian Wells opener
  • Beats Radek Stepanek 2-6 6-3 7-3 in second round match
  • Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray also go through
  • Wins for Li Na and Maria Sharapova in WTA event

(CNN) -- Defending champion Rafael Nadal struggled with a misfiring service and an awkward opponent in veteran Czech Radek Stepanek before battling into the third round of the Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells.

Nadal was in deep trouble in the third and deciding set before pulling out a 2-6 6-3 7-5 victory.

The world number one admitted that the back problem which affected him during his Australian Open final defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka was still leaving him with doubts.

"I was a little bit scared for the back. I am not yet 100 per cent confident with my service," he told gathered reporters after serving eight double faults in the two hour 40 minute encounter.

Read: Nadal: Aussie Open loss one my toughest moments

Tennis champ on 'failing better'
Grand slam champ's new venture
Gasquet's world famous backhand

Stepanek, 35, also posed an unusual challenge as Nadal acknowledged: "He is not the right player to play against in the first match because what you want to find is rhythm and against him every point is different."

Stepanek swept through the first set before Nadal hit back to level and take a break lead in the third set.

Stepanek broke back then forced three break points on the Spaniard's service in the sixth game.

"It's true that with love-40, I was very close to losing, to being out, but I think I did two good serves and then I played a great point," said Nadal.

Read: Nadal recovers to win Rio Open

"Tough one. Anything can happen, but in the end I played well. After that, I think I played better."

The victory extended Nadal's record to 41-6 at the Californian event, which he has won in 2007, 2009 and 2013.

Earlier, third seed Wawrinka came through his first match on the ATP Tour since his triumph in Melbourne, dispatching giant Croatian Ivo Karlovic, 6-3 7-5 without any major drama. "I was a little bit scared about the way I was going to play," said the Swiss, who took time off after his grand slam success.

Roger Federer, who is playing in the doubles with Wawrinka, continued his winning run with a 6-2 7-5 victory over France's Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Read: Nadal and Serena lead IPTL draft

The 17-time grand slam winner is fresh off his success in Dubai, where he beat world number two Novak Djokovic on the way to the title.

Britain's Andy Murray joined the other big guns in the third round with a three set victory, 4-6 6-3 6-2 over Lukas Rosol, but Australia's Lleyton Hewitt is out, beaten 7-6 7-5 by in-form 17th seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa.

In the WTA tournament at the same venue, top seed Li Na beat Chinese compatriot Zheng Jie 6-1 7-5, while Maria Sharapova returned to tour after her Olympic duties in Sochi with a 6-1 6-4 dismissal of Germany's Julia Goerges.

Read: Sixth Dubai title for Federer

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
French Tennis player Rene Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers' who won the Davis Cup in 1932, at Wimbledon. He is wearing his embroidered crocodile motif. Original Publication: People Disc - HH0434 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Marin Cilic follows in the footsteps of his coach Goran Ivanicevic by claiming a grand slam crown for Croatia, winning the U.S. Open.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.
Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Canada and tennis? Really? Yup. The North American tennis power balance is swinging away from the States.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
As a player he was as fiery as his hair -- and as Novak Djokovic's coach, Boris Becker says he has to battle to keep his emotions in check.
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Tennis great Boris Becker says he was stunned by the level of criticism he received after being appointed as Novak Djokovic's coach.
updated 7:01 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
When Agnieszka Radwanska refused to look her opponent in the eye after losing at Wimbledon, it raised more than eyebrows.
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Sun June 22, 2014
It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
He's regularly voted France's favorite famous person, but many of the nation's youth have "no idea" about his glorious sporting past
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.