Paris • Rafael Nadal knows this story well. All too well. Saw it up close the previous time he played in a major tournament.
Early round, main stadium, unknown opponent taking risky swings and putting everything in. At Wimbledon nearly a year ago, it was 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol who took it to Nadal and beat him in the second round. At the French Open on Monday, in Nadal's return to Grand Slam action after missing seven months with knee trouble, it was 59th-ranked Daniel Brands in the guest-star role.
Like Rosol, Brands is 6-foot-5 and lanky. Like Rosol, Brands employed a go-for-broke style and was hitting big. And for one whole set and most of the next during a first-round match in Court Philippe Chatrier, against the most successful man in Roland Garros history, it worked.
Nadal already owns a record seven French Open titles, including the past three. His bid to become the only man with eight championships at any of tennis' quartet of most important tournaments got off to a slow start, before he restored order by coming back to beat a faltering Brands 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3.
"He was trying to hit every ball as hard as he can," said Nadal, who improved to 37-2 this season, with 16 victories in a row. "He made me suffer, I can tell you."
Brands came in 0-4 at the French Open, and with a sub-.500 career record in all tour matches, and his strategy was right out of Rosol's playbook: Keep points short and aim for the lines.
The victory improved Nadal's career record at Roland Garros to 53-1, the only loss coming in the fourth round in 2009 against Robin Soderling, not incidentally a 6-foot-4 free swinger.
There was no such struggle Monday for the tournament's other defending champion, Maria Sharapova, who needed all of 54 minutes to overpower 42nd-ranked Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan 6-2, 6-1. Or for 2011 women's titlist Li Na, a 6-3, 6-4 winner against Anabel Medina Garrigues. Or for 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, who also won in straight sets.
No. 4-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska kept pace with her younger sister Urszula producer of a three-set victory over Venus Williams a night earlier by eliminating Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1. Li and Radwanska both play Americans next. Li goes up against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who got past Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain, part of a 6-1 day for U.S. women, including wins by No. 17 Sloane Stephens, No. 29 Varvara Lepchenko, Melanie Oudin, Vania King and Madison Keys. The older Radwanska will now face American Mallory Burdette, who won her French Open debut Sunday, beating Croatia's Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-4.
P Tuesday, 3 a.m.
TV • ESPN2