World tennis number one Rafael Nadal laboured into the third round of the Italian Open with an energy-sapping 7-6 6-7 6-2 victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon.
The 13-times grand slam winner has endured a slow start to the season, winning just three titles and suffering a number of uncharacteristic losses on his favoured clay surface.
The 29-year-old Simon forced Nadal into a tiebreak in the opening set but the Spaniard gained the impetus and his heavy groundstrokes gave him the lead.
In the second set Simon, a former world number six, survived an early break, match point, and a brief interruption by an errant pigeon before forcing a deciding set with a series of powerful forehands.
Nadal, the 'King of Clay', coped best in a draining final set and from 2-2 won four games in a row to claim victory but doubts remained about his form ahead of his bid for a record-extending ninth French Open title starting later this month.