PARIS (Reuters) - Defending champion Stan Wawrinka diced with danger but managed to avoid an ignominious first-round exit at the French Open on Monday, scrambling past Czech Lukas Rosol in five sets.
Twice the Swiss third seed trailed by a set on a cold and damp Philippe Chatrier Court but he dug himself out of trouble to win 4-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-4.
For a while, with 59th ranked Rosol playing inspired tennis, Wawrinka looked in grave danger of becoming the first reigning men’s singles champion at Roland Garros since tennis turned professional in 1968 to lose in the first round.
The last time a defending champion lost his opening match was Australian Lew Hoad in 1957.
“Thankfully that’s still the case,” Wawrinka, who stunned world number one Novak Djokovic in last year’s final, told reporters.
“But it’s never the best to start with a five-set match and not play your best tennis.”
Wawrinka seemed to be back on course when he breezed through the second set but Rosol claimed a decisive break in the third set and showed impressive composure to serve out the set.
Rosol had two break points early in the fourth but a couple of errors let Wawrinka off the hook, just when it seemed a shock on a similar scale to his win over Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012 was on the cards.
From then on he managed to regain some control and a searing backhand set up an early and decisive break in the fifth set.
Rosol saved one match point at 3-5 and another when Wawrinka missed an easy forehand but the relieved Swiss tucked away a volley to progress to the second round.
“Today I‘m really happy with the way I found a solution,” Wawrinka said. “It’s a really good victory.”
Wawrinka plays Japan’s Taro Daniel next.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Julien Pretot