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Rediff.com  » Sports » Nadal survives bad day at the office

Nadal survives bad day at the office

May 28, 2013 00:18 IST

All seemed as it should be when Rafael Nadal walked on to Chatrier Court to begin his bid for an eighth French Open title but Daniel Brands ensured it was no regular Monday at the office as the holder survived a big scare.

Nadal, as expected, took his place in the second round but his 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over the inspired German, who had never won a main-draw match at Roland Garros, was fraught with danger as he flirted with the unthinkable.

- IMAGES from Day 2 of the French Open

After a relatively thrill-free opening day on Sunday, fans flocked to the brick dust courts beside the Bois de Boulogne to feast their eyes on a line-up loaded with big names and topped by the swashbuckling Spaniard.

Former women's champion Li Na began with a grafting 6-3, 6-4 first-round win against Spain's Anabel Medina Garrigues while home fans dreaming of a first French men's champion here since 1983 cheered loudly as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga turned on the style.

Rafael NadalHowever, it was claycourt king Nadal's dice with danger that created the buzz around the fan-clogged walkways.

The 26-year-old, looking to become the first man in history to win the same Grand Slam eight times, was unstoppable in the build-up to the tournament he has dominated since winning the title as a teenager in 2005.

Five titles on clay since returning to the tour after a seven-month injury layoff, and the incredible statistic of a solitary defeat in his previous 53 French Open matches, should have made his first-round clash with Brands a formality.

When he banged the dirt off his shoes, performed the obligatory tug of his orange shorts and won the opening point with a dipping topspin forehand all looked well in 'Rafa World'.

But then things got complicated for the former world number one in his first Grand Slam match since last year's shock second-round Wimbledon defeat by Czech Lukas Rosol.

In the end he was just happy to survive and admitted he had been made "to suffer".

FOREHAND MISSILE

Looking tentative and struggling to cope with the punishing, flat-hitting of 59th-ranked Brands, Nadal double-faulted on a break point at 4-4 in the first set and the German seized his chance, claiming the first set with a forehand missile.

It was the first time Nadal had dropped the first set of a first-round match at Roland Garros and only the 15th he had surrendered at the home of French tennis.

Since losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009, Nadal had never lost the opening set of a match at the French Open and as Brands continued to show scant regard for his opponent's reputation, a repeat of that shock looked possible.

Especially when Brands held off break points at the start of the second set and dragged Nadal into a tense tiebreak.

With the capacity crowd trying to take in what they were witnessing, Brands fired down two huge winners to take a 3-0 lead and the alarm bells were ringing loudly in the Nadal camp.

Brands sliced a backhand into the net at 3-2 and Nadal sensed his chance, racing through the rest of the tiebreak, roaring as much in relief as joy after dispatching a fizzing backhand passing shot on set point.

"Sometimes you feel you are not hitting a bad shot and every time a bomb and a winner comes back, that's frustrating," Nadal told reporters. "But I found the solution at the right time.

"He played his game right up to the hilt, all the balls, he was just firing on all cylinders.

"He can't be 58th. The way he played, I just don't believe it."

Nadal said winning the tiebreak was "like oxygen" and after breaking the mighty Brands serve for the first time in the opening game of the third set, he always looked the likely winner although his display will offer hope to those wishing to knock him off his perch.

While Nadal was toiling, sixth seed Tsonga was entertaining the crowd out on Suzanne Lenglen court, outclassing Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 with a performance of pace and power.

Several women's seeds progressed, including China's 2011 champion Li who made light of a poor head-to-head record against Medina Garrigues to move through.

Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, playing despite a painful shoulder, thrashed Israel's Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1 while former world number one Caroline Wozniacki ended a dreadful recent run of first-round defeats to beat Britain's Laura Robson 6-3, 6-2.

Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

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