27th May, 2013
Rafael Nadal’s bid for an unprecedented eighth French Open title was given a huge scare by unheralded German Daniel Brands on Monday before the Spanish superstar prevailed 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-3.
Defending champion Nadal, who before this year had only lost once in 53 matches at Roland Garros, dropped the opening set of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career as Brands, the world number 59, unleashed a barrage of attacks off both sides to leave the third seed reeling.
Brands, who had lost all four of his previous first round matches in Paris, also led 3/0 in the second set tie-breaker as he appeared poised to deliver the first defeat of a men’s champion in the opening round in tournament history.
But Nadal, who arrived in Paris having won six titles in eight finals since his return from a seven-month injury lay-off, eventually found his rhythm to steady the ship as the 25-year-old Brands’ big-hitting gameplan ran out of firepower.
“He was playing unbelievable. I tried to find my game and tried to resist his fantastic shots,” said third-seeded Nadal.
“He played a great match and put me in a tricky situation.”
At the start, Brands looked to have taken inspiration from Robin Soderling, the only man to beat Nadal in Paris four years ago, and Lukas Rosol, who dumped the Spaniard out of Wimbledon last year.
He unleashed a barrage of super-charged winners, throwing caution to the cold Paris wind.
Nadal was clearly rattled and a double fault gave the German a break for 5-4 in the opener and the set was wrapped up with a down-the-line winner.
It was only the 15th set Nadal had lost in his Roland Garros career.
Brands continued his fearless assault in the second set, taking a 3/0 lead in the tie-breaker which could have been 4/2 had he not blundered with a simple backhand volley.
That miss proved the turning point and Nadal didn’t give him another chance as he took the breaker to level the tie at a set apiece.
The Spaniard was quickly 2-0 ahead in the third set, saved a break point in the eighth before a brutal forehand winner gave him a two sets to one lead.
A break in the opening game of the fourth set gave Nadal the edge he needed and the tie was his when Brands went wide with a weary forehand.
Nadal will face either Martin Klizan of Slovakia or Michael Russell of the United States for a place in the last 32.