Nadal escapes two match points to beat Pouille in thriller
Rafael Nadal survived two match points to defeat Lucas Pouille 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 in an enthralling first-round match at the China Open.
Nadal was appearing on the ATP World Tour for the first time since claiming his 16th grand slam at the US Open last month, though he did help Team Europe win the inaugural Laver Cup during the intervening period.
The world number one was frequently forced to play on the back foot by the big-hitting Pouille, but the Frenchman paid the price for failing to convert a pair of second-set opportunities to complete the win.
Nadal did not break Pouille until game 11 of the decider and he did not prove as forgiving when match point came his way to book his place in the second round.
A wide forehand down the line from Nadal handed Pouille the first break in game five of the opening set, and errors at key moments would soon become a theme.
Nadal produced an ace with his opponent on set point, but he was unable to stop the world number 23 serving it out in the next game.
Pouille missed a chance to go a break up early in the second and his excellent groundstrokes were pivotal as he staved off three break points in game eight as a tie-break soon followed.
The Frenchman worked his way to a 6-4 lead before contriving to drill a routine forehand into the net, and another error took the match to a decider.
A long volley from Pouille let Nadal off the hook once again in game six before the 23-year-old dropped his serve to love at a crucial point and was punished by the resilient Spaniard.