RAFAEL Nadal recovered from the shock of losing the first set of his French Open title defence to world No 59 Daniel Brands and battled into the second round at Roland Garros.
Spain’s Nadal – a seven-time champion in Paris – was stunned by the wicked serve of German hopeful Brands and lost the first set of a first-round match at a grand slam event for the first time in his career.
Brands threatened to take the second set, too, only to lose his concentration during a tie-break that handed the initiative back to the world No 4, who steadily resisted the German’s big hitting on his way to a 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-3 victory.
“He was playing unbelievable,” Nadal said. “I tried to find my game and resist. He played a fantastic match and put me in a tricky situation.”
Since his return from an eight-month lay-off with a knee injury the Spaniard has won eight titles but he made an unconvincing start against 25-year-old Brands, only reaching 4-3 on his serve thanks to some fine groundstrokes.
Nadal’s poor forehand into the net gave Brands the crucial break point before a double-fault allowed him to serve for the set. And Nadal returned to his chair dejected when Brands smashed a forehand winner down the line to take the first set 6-4. Nadal’s service game did not let him down in the second set but Brands was not budging either as the pair traded blows.
Brands threw away a two-point lead in the breaker to let his opponent streak back and take the second set.
The swagger returned to Nadal’s step and he resisted the snap on Brands’ forehand to push on to a 6-4 win in the third set. He managed to repeat the trick in the fourth when Brands netted a forehand.
Brands kept his side of the scoreboard ticking over with a range of classy forehand winners but a clutch of love services saw a relieved Nadal over the line.
While Nadal was toiling, sixth seed Tsonga was outclassing Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia, just 18, 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 just once.