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Rafael Nadal was convinced he had lost before coming back to win in Indian Wells

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Rafael Nadal celebrates after his comeback victory over Sebastian Korda at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Saturday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Rafael Nadal is the ultimate escape artist, but he wondered if he had pushed his luck when he trailed 5-2 and two breaks in the third set against Sebastian Korda on Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open. Korda’s backhand was hot and his court coverage was exceptional, causing problems that Nadal was unable to solve. “I thought he was lost today,” Nadal said.

He told himself that he had to play better so that he could at least walk away feeling good about some part of his game. He began to chip away at his deficit and, as he did so, he planted doubts in Korda’s mind. “Normal with this kind of matches, in that position, out of 100 matches you are probably going to lose 90,” said Nadal, who withdrew from the next event on the tour, the Miami Open, to protect himself from exhaustion. “But if you give up, you’re going to lose 100.”

Taking advantage of Korda’s growing nerves and adjusting his tactics to get closer to the baseline and rely more on his forehand, Nadal roared to win four games in a row. In the tiebreaker, he rallied from 2-3 down to post a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (3) victory over the 21-year-old Korda, the best hope for American male tennis players to once again factor into the big tournaments and probably the only one with a cat named “Raffy” in honor of Nadal.

Nadal, who turns 36 in June, extended his remarkable start to the season to 16-0. That includes his straight-set comeback against Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, which gave him a men’s record 21 Grand Slam singles titles.

“He is an incredible fighter. He is probably one of the best boxers of all time. And I used it and kept going,” said Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and former tour player Regina Rajchrtova, and brother of LPGA players Nelly and Jessica Korda.

“Pushing him to the limit was incredible,” Korda said. “It shows a lot about my game, how dangerous it can be against tough opponents.”

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his match against Sebastian Korda on Saturday.

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his match against Sebastian Korda on Saturday. (Mark J Terrill/Associated Press)

Nadal, the No. 4 seed, will face No. 27 Daniel Evans of Great Britain on Monday in the round of 32. Nadal hopes to avoid fighting his way out of a corner again. “I was really lucky today to be done, honestly,” he said. “Accepting that, I need to play better, because I didn’t play well.”

Medvedev had an easy time in his first match here, also his first as world number 1. Medvedev saved the only break point he faced and won 80% of his first serve points from him as he defeated Czech Tomas Machac 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the round of 32.

“For me, it’s a great feeling,” the 6-foot-6 Russian said of his competitive debut as No. 1. “Something I always dreamed of, something I was looking for. At the same time, I want to play better, I want to try to win more.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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