By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal showed flashes of his top form under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium to beat young Croat Borna Coric 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 and close Day One at the U.S. Open tennis championships on Monday.
The first two sets brought a vintage performance on a sultry night from Nadal, who has dropped to world number eight in what has been a lackluster 2015 campaign for the Spaniard.
Given his last chance to keep alive a 10-year streak of winning at least one grand slam title, 14-times major winner Nadal schooled the 18-year-old Coric over the first two sets.
But Coric responded with his best tennis and broke the Spaniard in the 10th game of the third set to send the match to a hard-fought fourth set.
The Spaniard finally prevailed thanks to a service break on a forehand service return winner in the seventh game.
"It's a very happy moment for me," said Nadal, returning to Flushing Meadows for the first time since his 2013 U.S. Open triumph after missing last year with a wrist injury.
"Last year was very hard not having chance to being back in one of my favorite tournaments," he told the crowd in an on-court ESPN interview.
Nadal avenged a 6-2 7-6 loss to Coric last year at Basel in their only previous encounter.
The up-and-coming Coric, ranked 33, is the youngest player in the world's top-50 and showed glimpses of his enormous potential with his spirited fightback.
"The first two sets were a high level for me. I was happy with the way I played," said Nadal, who served brilliantly over the first two sets and in the fourth. "He is a great player and has an amazing future."
Nadal next meets Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, a 6-3 6-2 6-2 winner over Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer.
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)