- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PARIS — Rafael Nadal excelled when he needed to most, winning the last two sets against John Isner on Tuesday to advance to the second round at the French Open with a 6-4, 6-7 (7-2), 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 6-4 victory.

The five-time champion, who improved to 39-1 at Roland Garros, played a five-set match at Roland Garros for the first time in seven visits.

“Tough, tough moments for me,” Nadal said. “I played too nervous, in my opinion.”

Nadal last lost a set at the French Open in 2009, when he was eliminated by Robin Soderling in the fourth round. He had never dropped a set in the first or second round.

The top-seeded Nadal is trying to equal Bjorn Borg’s record of six French Open titles.

Also advancing to the second round were Australian Open finalists Andy Murray and Li Na, as well as Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters and two-time French Open finalist Robin Soderling.

Nadal came into the tournament after losing to Novak Djokovic on clay in finals in Rome and Madrid. But the top-ranked Spaniard still is considered by many to be the favorite at Roland Garros.

That didn’t seem to matter - at first anyway - to Isner, the man best known for playing in the longest tennis match in history last year at Wimbledon.

Despite losing the first set, the tall American held strong and forced Nadal into a pair of tiebreakers, where his big serve helped him put Nadal on the defensive.

But with only six unforced errors the rest of the way - none in the fourth set — Nadal proved he still is the man to beat on clay.

“I didn’t play well in the tiebreak, and I didn’t have chances to have the break,” Nadal said. “When you play against these kind of players, the pressure is there all the time. You have to play all the time very safe.”

Sharapova, who was coming off the biggest clay-court title of her career, rolled into the second round by beating Mirjana Lucic of Croatia 6-3, 6-0.

The seventh-seeded Russian won the Italian Open before coming to Roland Garros.

“If you feel pressure, it’s part of the business. It’s part of the sport,” Sharapova said of the expectations placed on her. “That means there’s something on the line.”

Against Lucic on center court, Sharapova was not troubled. She won nine straight games to finish the match and never faced a break point.

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