Shanghai - Rafael Nadal needed all his trademark grit and determination on Wednesday when he was taken to a third-set tie-break by towering ace king Ivo Karlovic in a dramatic opening match at the Shanghai Masters.
After Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray safely went through, Nadal was in danger of following Roger Federer to the exit when the 6ft 11ins (2.11m) Croatian zipped 24 aces past the 14-time Grand Slam winner.
But Karlovic, who has fired more aces than any other player in tennis history, fatally double-faulted at 4-4 in the tense final-set tie-breaker, giving Nadal a shot at victory, which he did not miss.
Nadal's excited reaction to the breathless 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/4) win, when he leapt in the air and pumped his fists, and then stood with his arms aloft, left no doubt about how much the victory meant.
The Spaniard had earlier walloped three return winners in a row, from Karlovic's giant serve, at 4-5 down in the first set to break the Croatian and ultimately take a one-set lead.
"That game was so important -- probably one of the best games return in my career," said Nadal. "Yeah, almost a miracle. Three winners from his first serve. That was really amazing."
Defending champion Federer tamely succumbed to 70th-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas on Tuesday but Nadal's win means the other big names march on at Shanghai's Qi Zhong Stadium.