PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal didn't exactly put his doubters to rest despite reaching the third round at the French Open with a straight-sets victory.
The five-time champion, who needed all five sets in the first round, looked shaky again Thursday at Roland Garros but still managed to advance by beating Pablo Andujar 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
"Here I am not playing that well, and I'm going to try to play much better next time," said Nadal, who trailed 5-1 in the third set before forcing the tiebreaker. "That's what I can say, and that's what I can think ... I will see what's going on after."
Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova also struggled for long stretches Thursday, but it was only the second-seeded Clijsters that was eliminated from the tournament.
On Friday, Novak Djokovic is scheduled to put his perfect season on the line against 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. Roger Federer will also be back on court to play for a spot in the fourth round, as are top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki and 2010 French Open finalists Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur.
Nadal entered the tournament as the co-favorite along with Djokovic — the man who beat him in two clay-court finals this month. The Spaniard needs one more French Open title to equal Bjorn Borg's record of six.
But so far Nadal has failed to dominate like he did in the past, when he built up a 38-1 record at Roland Garros over six years.
"The problems I think everybody knows; the solutions is more difficult," Nadal said, explaining that he has not been aggressive enough. "Probably I am playing a little bit nervous, and that's why (my) legs didn't work as well as usual."
Even Andujar, a 25-year-old Spaniard who has never reached the third round in eight Grand Slam appearances, noticed a weaker Nadal across the net.
"I think Nadal is going through perhaps a period of doubt," said Andujar, who had eight set points in the third. "But little by little, he can gain confidence and build confidence."
Just surviving that third set, combined with the five-set win over John Isner in the first round, should at least show Nadal that he is tough to beat even when he is not at his best.
But for Nadal, the strategy is clear.
"Either I improve or I'll go back home," Nadal said.
Clijsters won't get the chance. The four-time Grand Slam champion and two-time runner-up at Roland Garros wasted a pair of match points before losing to 114th-ranked Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Right after the match, the second-seeded Belgian acknowledged that she lost confidence in herself once the momentum shifted.
"I started doubting a little bit," said Clijsters, who was playing only her second match since a right ankle injury knocked her out of action last month. "When you start doubting yourself on any surface, but for me definitely on clay, it's the wrong attitude to have."
Sharapova had almost the exact opposite experience on the same center court. The seventh-seeded Russian was trailing by a set and down 4-1 in the second when she took control and won 11 straight games to beat 17-year-old Caroline Garcia of France 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
"The conditions were tough and she was playing well and I had to do something different," Sharapova said. "Yeah, I turned it around."