Nadal beat the 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters) German 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-3 on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris yesterday. Brands had been serving as fast as 215 kilometers-per-hour (134 mph) and fired 10 aces among his 51 winners. Spain’s Nadal had 40 winners.
“He made me suffer,” Nadal told reporters after he won the match on an unforced error by Brands. “He was serving great during the whole match and hitting every time the first ball fantastic. So I am very happy to be through, seriously.”
Maria Sharapova of Russia got her women’s title defense off to an easier start, beating 42nd-ranked Su-Wei Hsieh of Chinese Taipei 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova, the second seed at the clay-court tennis Grand Slam tournament, hit 24 winners, three times as many as her opponent.
Former champion Li Na of China, ex-world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and men’s No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also won. Gael Monfils, a Frenchman coming back from an knee injury, upset fifth-seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays his opening match today against Belgium’s David Goffin. Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus faces Elena Vesnina in a women’s first-round match.
Yesterday’s match wasn’t the first time in his career Nadal has struggled against a tall player with a big serve and thumping ground strokes. Four years ago, 6-foot-4 Robin Soderling of Sweden handed him his only loss at Roland Garros in the fourth round. Nadal was upset in the second round of Wimbledon last year by 6-foot-5 Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, who fired 20 winners past him in the final set alone.
Brands chose the right strategy by “trying to hit every ball as hard as he can,” Nadal said. “The problem is not the tactic. The problem is the execution that he did very well. That was the real problem.”
Nadal, who returned to the men’s tour in February after a seven-month layoff because of a knee injury, dropped his serve to go down 5-4 in the first set on a double fault.
The 59th-ranked Brands continued to dictate play for most of the second set. He regularly pinned the third-seeded Nadal far behind the baseline with his serve, deep forehands and rushes to the net.
“If you play against Rafa you have to play aggressive from the beginning,” Brands told reporters. “If you can do this, I think you have a chance to compete against Rafa.”
In the second-set tiebreaker, Brands took a 3-0 lead with two forehand winners before Nadal won the next three points. A forehand winner down the line set up two set points for Nadal, and he converted with a backhand return winner that got a standing ovation from his long-time coach and uncle, Toni Nadal.
“After winning the tiebreak, it was just like some oxygen,” Nadal said. “I could finally breathe. And it enabled me to think about the rest of the match with less pressure weighing down on me, because we were neck and neck.”
Nadal took command after that, breaking serve in the opening games of both the third and fourth set. He pumped his fist as Brands sent a forehand wide on match point.
Also yesterday, 2011 champion Libeat Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 6-4. Poland’s No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, the runner-up at Wimbledon last year, dropped two games against Shahar Peer of Israel. Her sister Urszula ousted seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams two days ago. The siblings could meet in the third round.
The 10th-seeded Wozniacki ended a five-match losing streak by beating Laura Robson, 6-3, 6-2. Robson was the highest-ranked Briton in the main draw at No. 54 in the absence of injured U.S. Open champion Andy Murray.
Former winners Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone both moved to the second round.
Sloane Stephens and Melanie Oudin, two of 15 U.S. women in the main draw, also won. Since being catapulted into the spotlight at January’s Australian Open -- where she beat top-seeded Serena Williams to reach the semifinals, Stephens had lost in the opening round of four events. She beat Karin Knapp of Italy in straight sets yesterday.
Oudin, who made a name for herself by reaching the 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinals, ousted Tamira Paszek, the No. 28 from Austria. Fellow Americans Madison Keys, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Vania King and Varvara Lepchenko also won.
In the men’s draw, 2008 semifinalist Monfils beat Berdych 7-6 (10-8), 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 in a four-hour match. No. 19 seed John Isner of the U.S., France’s No. 7 Richard Gasquet, No. 10 Marin Cilic of Croatia and Kei Nishikori, the 13th seed from Japan, also advanced.
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