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TENNIS

Nadal wins French opener

Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal surprisingly needed four sets to win his first-round match Monday at the French Open.

The reigning three-time winner and third seed 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 on Day 2. The Spanish great won seven of the final eight points in the tiebreak and would charge on from there.

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 striking the ball really well and serving big.

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 finale.

Nadal is now a brilliant 37-2 this year, including trips into finals in all eight of his 2013 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.

Meanwhile, 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 seventh-seeded French star 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.

Italian Fabio Fognini, seeded 27th at this fortnight, 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).

Some other opening-round winners were Klizan, France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Czech Lukas Rosol, German Tobias Kamke, Dutchman 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).