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Rafael Nadal begins bid for 8th French Open title by beating German Daniel Brands in 4 sets

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    Spain's Rafael Nadal returns against Germany's Daniel Brands in their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament, at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) (The Associated Press)

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    Spain's Rafael Nadal grimaces as he plays Germany's Daniel Brands during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Monday, May 27, 2013 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (The Associated Press)

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    Spain's Rafael Nadal serves the ball to Germany's Daniel Brands during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Monday, May 27, 2013 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (The Associated Press)

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    Germany's Daniel Brands returns against Spain's Rafael Nadal in their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament, at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) (The Associated Press)

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    The crowd watches defending champion Spain's Rafael Nadal, background, playing Germany's Daniel Brands during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Monday, May 27, 2013 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (The Associated Press)

Rafael Nadal survived an early scare and successfully began his bid for an eighth French Open title by rallying past Daniel Brands of Germany, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3.

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

The Spaniard, who won a record seventh French Open title last year, improved to 53-1 at Roland Garros. He's 37-2 since returning in February after a seven-month layoff because of a left knee injury, reaching the finals at all eight previous tournaments he played this year and winning six.