PARIS — Defending champion Rafael Nadal said he was lucky to move to the second round of the French Open after he overcame the booming serves of Daniel Brands.
Nadal beat the 6-foot-5 German, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-3 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros.
“He made me suffer,” Nadal told reporters after he won the match on an unforced error by Germany’s 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.”
Brands had been serving as fast as 134 miles-per-hour and hit 51 winners – including 10 aces. Seven-time French Open champion Nadal had 40 winners, including 2 aces.
Women’s champion Maria Sharapova of Russia got her title defense off to an easier start, beating 42nd-ranked Su-Wei Hsieh of Chinese Taipei 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova, the second seed, hit 24 winners, three times more than her opponent.
Former champion Li Na of China, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, and sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also won. Gael Monfils, a Frenchman coming back from an knee injury, upset fifth-seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
It wasn’t the first time in his career Nadal has struggled against a tall player with a big serve and thumping ground strokes. In 2009, six-foot-four Robin Soderling of Sweden handed him his lone loss at Roland Garros in the fourth round. Last year, Nadal was upset in the second round of Wimbledon by six- foot-five Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, who fired 20 winners past him in the final set alone.
By “trying to hit every ball as hard as he can,” Brands had chosen the right strategy, Nadal said. “He went on this court with this tactic. The problem is not the tactic. The problem is the execution that he did very well. That was the real problem.”
Nadal, who made his comeback to the men’s tour after a seven-month break because of a knee injury in February, had a rusty start against Brands, dropping his serve to go down 5-4 in the first set on a double fault.
The 59th-ranked German, who has yet to get past the first round of Roland Garros in five attempts, continued to dictate play for most of the second set after winning the first. 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 afterward. “If you can do this, I think you have a chance to compete against Rafa.”
In the second-set tie-break, Nadal looked in trouble as Brands took a 3-0 lead with two forehand winners. Instead, Nadal clinched 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.
Earlier in the day, 2011 champion Li Na defeated Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-3, 6-4. Poland’s No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, a runner-up at Wimbledon last year, dropped only two games against Shahar Peer of Israel. Her sister Urszula yesterday overcame seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams in a three-set, three-hour match. The siblings could meet in the third round.
The 10th-seeded Wozniacki, who had lost in the opening rounds of her last four tournaments, eased past 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 champions Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone both moved to the second round in straight sets.
Sloane Stephens and Melanie Oudin, two of 15 American women in the main draw, also won. Since being catapulted into the limelight at the Australian Open in January — where she beat top-seeded Serena Williams to reach the semifinals, Stephens had struggled, losing in the opening round of four events. She defeated Karin Knapp of Italy in straight sets Monday.
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, 19th-seeded John Isner of the U.S., France’s No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 7 Richard Gasquet, Kei Nishikori, the No. 13 seed from Japan and No. 10 Marin Cilic of Croatia also advanced.
Juan Monaco, the No. 17 from Argentina, and 24th-seeded German Julia Goerges lost.
Monfils, a 2008 semifinalist in Paris, beat Berdych 7-6 (10-8), 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 in a match that lasted four hours.