TENNIS

French Open

Big-serving German scares Nadal at French Open

Spaniard survives early trip-up as Shaky Li Na books second round berth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 4:47am

Rafael Nadal hopped, spun and threw an overhand punch toward his friends and family, stirring memories of past celebrations on his favourite stage.

After more than 90 minutes of tense tennis, Nadal had finally won a set, leaving him only 20 sets from another French Open championship.

The Spaniard survived an early scare yesterday and successfully began his bid for an eighth title at Roland Garros by rallying past Daniel Brands of Germany, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-3.

Nadal, who had lost only 14 sets in 53 previous matches at the French Open, fell behind when he was broken in the ninth game and was on the verge of digging a deeper hole in the red clay. He trailed 3-0 in the tiebreaker, then summoned his best shot-making to salvage the set and soon was in control against Brands.

"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."

Nadal, who won a record seventh French Open title last year, improved to 53-1 at Roland Garros. Since returning in February after a seven-month lay-off because of a left knee injury, he is 37-2, reaching the finals at all eight previous tournaments he played this year and winning six.

The 1.95 metre Brands, ranked 59th, gained a foothold with his big forehand and serves of up to 215km/h, while Nadal's feared groundstrokes lacked their depth and force.

No 6 Li Na, the 2011 women's champion, began her bid for another title by beating nemesis Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 6-4. Li came into the match 0-3 on clay against Garrigues but raced to a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes and broke serve six times.

No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1. Radwanska, last year's Wimbledon runner-up, played for the first time since withdrawing before last week's Brussels event with a recurrence of the right shoulder injury that has bothered her the past couple of years.

"I decided to have a week of rest and just practice," she said. "I think it was a good move."

She will next play American Mallory Burdette, who won in her Roland Garros debut on Sunday. Asked what she knew about her second-round opponent, Radwanska said: "To be honest, not much. Nothing at all, actually.

"I might Google her."

Former top-ranked player Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark ended a five-match losing streak by defeating Laura Robson 6-3, 6-2. Nick Kyrgios of Australia, at 18 the youngest player in the men's draw, made a successful grand slam debut by beating 34-year-old Radek Stepanek 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (10/8), 7-6 (11/9). Kyrgios won despite breaking serve only once.

Stepanek said: "He has some talent. He's serving big. He definitely has a chance."