Rafael Nadal was forced to dig deep into his near bottomless resolve to salvage a 4-6 7-6 6-4 6-3 first-round win over Germanys Daniel Brands on Monday that had threatened to turn nasty for the seven-times French Open champion.
The Spaniard who has lost only once in eight years at Roland Garros,was a set and 3-0 down in the second-set tiebreak before finally subduing the 59th-ranked Brands.
Playing his first Grand Slam match since crashing out of last years Wimbledon to lowly-ranked Czech Lukas Rosol,history threatened to repeat itself as Brands,who had never won a match at Roland Garros in four attempts,dictated the early stages.
Nadal,down to fourth in the rankings after seven months out injured,broke in the first game of both the third and fourth sets to wrestle back control of the match.
I know he (Brands) was playing unbelievable tennis, Nadal said in his courtside interview. I tried to find my game and to resist his fantastic shots. I am very happy to be through in this fantastic game.
Nadal surged on to the court with his usual bouncing gait,but that was where all familiarity with the king of the Parisian clay ended.
Since returning in February,Nadal has won six of his eight tournaments and is on a 15-match winning streak,but he looked heavy-footed as Brandss steeplejack serve and pounding flat forehands blew holes in the Spaniards defences.
Disbelief all around
Murmurs of disbelief echoed around a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court as Brands pulled off the unthinkable feat of breaking Nadal in the ninth game when the 11-times grand slam champion dumped a second serve into the net.
The German wrapped up the set in 36 minutes with one of many huge forehand winners and had Nadal looking listlessly to the skies for inspiration when he failed to convert a breakpoint in the second game of the second set.
The turning-point came in the tiebreak,when after conceding the first three points,Nadal won seven of the next eight to level the match.
An immediate break at the start of the third brought back something resembling the natural order and with the Germans resolve weakened,Nadal strode clear with two further breaks in the fourth.
Next up for Nadal is a second-round clash with Slovakias Martin Klizan or American Michael Russel.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga barely broke sweat as he brushed aside Slovenian Aljaz Bedene 6-2 6-2 6-3 to book his place in the second round. The sixth-seeded Tsonga,the last French man to reach a grand slam final at the Australian Open in 2008,will next take on either compatriot Paul-Henri Mathieu or Finn Jarkko Nieminen.
Tsonga,who could run into second seed Roger Federer in the quarter-finals,simply had too much power and pace for Bedene,who was playing his only second grand slam match. The 28-year-old Frenchman ended the contest on Court Suzanne Lenglen on his first match point with a service winner.
Li Na,the 2011 winner at Roland Garros,raced to a 4-love lead after 20 minutes and defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3,6-4 in the first round. Seeded No. 6,Li came into the match 0-3 on clay against Medina Garrigues but broke serve six times and came forward aggressively,winning 13 of 16 points at the net.
No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Shahar Peer 6-1,6-1 in 57 minutes. Radwanska,last years Wimbledon runner-up,played for the first time since withdrawing before last weeks Brussels tournament with a recurrence of the right shoulder injury that has bothered her the past couple of years.
I decided to have a week of rest and just practice, she said. I think it was a good move.
Shell next play American Mallory Burdette,who won in her Roland Garros debut Sunday. Radwanska was asked what she knew about her second-round opponent. To be honest,not much. Nothing at all,actually, she said with a smile. I might Google her.
Nick Kyrgios,at 18 the youngest player in the mens draw,made a successful Grand Slam debut by beating 34-year-old Radek Stepanek 7-6 (4),7-6 (8),7-6 (11). Kyrgios won despite breaking serve only once.
When youre good in juniors,it doesnt mean automatically youre going to be good in the mens tennis, Stepanek said. He (Kyrgios) has some talent. Hes serving big. Nick definitely has a chance.