Paris, France – Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal surprisingly needed four sets to win his first-round match Monday, while oft-injured Frenchman Gael Monfils upended fifth seed Tomas Berdych on Day 2 at the French Open.
The reigning three-time winner and third-seeded Nadal had his hands full with 6-foot-5 Daniel Brands, but the clay-court king from Spain fought back to beat his German counterpart 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-3 in 2 hours, 54 minutes on Court Chatrier at Stade Roland Garros.
Brands was up a set and led 3-0 in the second-set tiebreak before Nadal mounted his comeback. The Spanish great won seven of the final eight points in the tiebreak and handled things from there.
"Winning the tiebreak, well, it was just like some oxygen," Nadal said. "I could finally breathe."
Playing his first Grand Slam match in 11 months, Nadal broke Brands three times, while the German settled for only one break in defeat on a day when he was both striking the ball really well and serving big.
"He was playing unbelievable," Nadal said. "He was trying to hit every ball as hard as he can. Sometimes you feel you are not hitting a bad shot, and every time comes back a bomb. So I am very happy to be through, seriously."
The 11-time Grand Slam singles titlist and former world No. 1 Nadal beat current top-ranked star Novak Djokovic in last year's French Open finale.
Nadal is now a brilliant 37-2 this year, including trips into finals in all eight of his events and 16 straight wins on clay. The mighty Mallorcan is seeking his seventh title of the season.
Nadal's second-round opponent will be promising Slovak Martin Klizan.
In the match of the day, the 81st-ranked Monfils went the distance to oust the former Wimbledon runner-up Berdych 6-7 (8-10), 4-6, 7-6 (7-6), 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 in 4 hours, 3 minutes. The big-hitting affair featured 26 aces by the winner and only one service break by Berdych. Monfils broke his fellow former French Open semifinalist three times en route to the big victory.
The 26-year-old former top-10 star Monfils, who was a clay-court runner-up in Nice last week, appeared in the quarterfinals in his last trip to Roland Garros two years ago.
Sixth-seeded French crowd favorite and former Australian Open runner-up Jo- Wilfried Tsonga drilled helpless Slovenian Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 and another French star, seventh-seeded Richard Gasquet, erased Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
In other action involving top-16 seeds, No. 10 Marin Cilic of Croatia whipped German Philipp Petzschner 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, struggling No. 11 Spaniard Nicolas Almagro overcame Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and No. 13 Kei Nishikori of Japan crushed Canadian Jesse Levine 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.
Meanwhile, Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver knocked out 17th-seeded Argentine Juan Monaco 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-4 and towering 19th-seeded American John Isner cruised past Argentina's Carlos Berlocq 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Monaco was fresh off his title in Duesseldorf.
Tall Pole Jerzy Janowicz, seeded 21st at this fortnight, erased Spaniard Albert Ramos 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 6-3; 27th-seeded Italian Fabio Fognini defeated German Andreas Beck 6-3, 7-5, 6-3; 30th-seeded quality Frenchman Julien Benneteau held off Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5); Feliciano Lopez outlasted 31st-seeded fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; and 32nd-seeded Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo cruised past Estonian Jurgen Zopp 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.
American Ryan Harrison straight-setted Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) to move on, while Spanish clay-courter Albert Montanes topped American Steve Johnson in five sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Montanes, who beat Monfils in Saturday's finale in Nice, will battle fourth-seeded fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in his next match.
Some other opening-round winners were Klizan, Finn Jarkko Nieminen, Latvian Ernests Gulbis, France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Czech Lukas Rosol, German Tobias Kamke, Dutchmen Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling, and 18-year-old Aussie Nick Kyrgios, who doused 34-year-old Czech Radek Stepanek 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (13-11). Nieminen was a runner-up in Germany last week.
On Tuesday, a top-seeded Djokovic will open his stay against talented Belgian David Goffin.
Djokovic is a six-time Grand Slam champ, including this year's Aussie Open title.
Also seeing action on Day 3 will be eighth-seeded Serb Janko Tipsarevic, ninth-seeded Swiss slugger Stanislas Wawrinka and 12th-seeded 35-year-old resurgent German Tommy Haas.