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Nadal Relieved After Winning Roland Garros Opener; Tsonga, Nishikori Advance

Paris, France

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal opened his campaign for an eighth Roland Garros title on Monday.

Rafael Nadal looked relieved after he won his Roland Garros opener on Monday.

The third seed and seven-time champion maintained his record of never having lost in the first round of a major championship after he defeated Daniel Brands 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-3 on Court Philippe Chatrier. "He was playing unbelievable," said Nadal. "I just tried to find my game and tried to resist his fantastic shots. He played a fantastic match and put me in a very difficult situation. I'm very happy to be through."

Rafa Reacts To Brands' Power Play

Brands won 83 per cent of his second service points to clinch the first set and for much of the second set looked as if he would cause a major upset. At 0-3 in the second set tie-break, Nadal was clinging on. But Nadal won seven of the next eight points to win the set. The tie-break turned when Brands mis-hit a backhand drop shot at 3-2, with Nadal regaining his footing wide of the court. “I was up 3-0, and yes, maybe that was the turning point,” said Brands. “I lost a little bit of concentration after the tie-break." 

Nadal took early control of the third set, breaking Brands in the first game as the German failed to attack the net on serve. Nadal maintained the advantage and broke in the opening game of the fourth set. Brands showed flashes of brilliance, a reminder of his potential, but the World No. 59 came undone in long baseline rallies. “I think if you play against Rafa you have to play aggressively from the beginning," said Brands. "If you can do this, I think you have a chance to compete.”

The World No. 4 is bidding to capture the 57th trophy of his career and become the first man to win eight titles at the same major championship. Nadal has a 53-1 match record at Roland Garros, putting him joint fifth among match wins leader at the Paris major. Only Guillermo Vilas (58 wins), Nicola Pietrangeli (58), Budge Patty (55) and Roger Federer (54) have more victories in the French capital. Nadal will next play Martin Klizan in the second round.

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Sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga opened his bid with a resounding 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Aljaz Bedene. The French No. 1 is looking to improve on his career-best quarter-final showing in Paris last year, when he held four match points in a five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic. It has been 30 years since a Frenchman won the Coupe des Mousquetaires, with Yannick Noah lifting the trophy in 1983 (d. Wilander).

The Frenchman was disappointed with only making 50 per cent of first serves, but optimistic he can improve moving forward. "It's positive, because winning without seeing a high percentage of first serves, that's good. That means everything else is in place and that when I iron the service out, then I will be even better."

NishikoriKei Nishikori, the No. 13 seed, reached the second round Monday on his third Roland Garros appearance after he hit 25 winners past Jesse Levine in a 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 victory. The Japanese star posted his best clay-court result this year at the Mutua Madrid Open, where he reached the quarter-finals (l. to Andujar). Levine is now 0-16 lifetime against players in the Top 20 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

Tommy Robredo, a four-time former quarter-finalist, who is playing at the Paris major for the first time in three years, swept past Jurgen Zopp 6-3, 6-2, 6-1. Robredo, the No. 32 seed, reached the last eight in 2003 (l. to Costa), 2005 (l. to Davydenko), 2007 (l. to Federer) and 2009 (l. to del Potro).

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