Roger Federer was made to fight for a five-set win while Rafael Nadal recovered from an early niggle as the pair of showcase players battled into the second round of the U.S. Open on Tuesday.
Third seed Federer, a five-time New York champion, needed more than two and a half hours to hold off U.S. teenager Francis Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4, a 19-year-old player just over half the age of the 36-year-old Swiss icon.
Nadal, the top seed, came back after going down an early break down before taking a stranglehold on his opening match with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, 6-2 hammering of Serb Dusan Lajovic.The contest lasting two-and-a-quarter hours was staged under the closed roof of the Ashe showcase court on a rainy day - the kind that would have wrecked the entire day before the covering was installed over the last few years.
Nadal got his match back on even footing as he broke back for 5-all in the opening set; once he squared way the set with a winning tiebreaker, the Spaniard was untroubled. "At the end of the first set, it was important to get the break back," the 31-year-old said. "After that, everything changed, I'm very happy. "I need to keep improving, the first round is never easy. You want to do well from the beginning. I want to focus on trying to do my work well."
Federer was pushed throughout by Tiafoe, who saved two match points before finally going down to the 19-time grand slam champion. "This was more than a test, it was a wide-open match," Federer said after winning his 17th Open first-round match without a loss. "We were both fighting and going for our shots.
"I'm very happy with my match, that's why I'm in New York - to go through these emotions."
The Swiss player was broken in the first game as Tiafoe gave a taste of his power. "I had a slow start," Federer said. "I was worried about back issues (from a fortnight ago) but I was able to let go. "It's a pity I could not get in the driving seat in the fourth set, but Francis fought well. In the end it went my way, I'm very happy."
Federer said his injury situation is now in check, "To go through five setters, you have to be OK. This will give me confidence in my body and my game."
The downward spiral of former number one Angelique Kerber gathered pace as the German was knocked out in the first round 6-3, 6-1 by Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka.
Kerber, the defending champion, lost her third match from four played since Wimbledon; she has not won a title since her success at Flushing Meadows a year ago.
"It was not my day, completely not my day today," Kerber said, "Matches are always different than practice, and I just can say that I was practising a lot in the last few weeks and months. "Of course it's not the result, and I'm sad, but matches are always different. "I was believing until the end that I can turn it around. I'm always trying, going for it when I have the chance."
Top seed Karolina Pliskova started off with a win, dispatching Poland's Magda Linette 6-2, 6-1.
The 2016 finalist, who earned the top ranking just over a week ago, was playing her first match as a grand slam top seed.
The Czech finished off victory with eight aces and 29 winners, with the seed needing to lift her game after a slow start against the world number 72.
"I'm happy that I'm through, I was expecting a little bit tougher than it was," Pliskova said. "I was a bit nervous this morning before the match, especially defending so many points here from the final last year. "It was a little bit difficult, but I think I made it pretty okay today. The game could be better. The serve could be better, but overall, it was solid.
"It was a really big help to play on a court with a roof," Pliskova said. "I was not lucky with the weather at last two tournaments, Toronto and Cincinnati."