French Open: Monfils shocks Berdych as Nadal gets off to stumbling start

The unseeded Frenchman stuns fifth seed Berdych in five sets while clay king Nadal labours against aggressive rival.
France's Gael Monfils returns to Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych during their first-round match. Miguel Medina / AFP
France's Gael Monfils returns to Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych during their first-round match. Miguel Medina / AFP

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

Nadal 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 the dangerous Brands.

"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."

Brands, the 6ft 5ins rival of Nadal, revealed later that aggression was his strategy from the start. "I think if you play against Rafa you have to play aggressive from the beginning," the German said.

"Just try to put some pressure always. I think that's the main goal. If you can do this, you have a chance to compete against Rafa. I was trying to hit with a lot of pressure to break his rhythm. I did it quite well until the third set."

Seeded third but a heavy favourite, Nadal won his 16th consecutive match, and he improved to 34-0 in the first round at Grand Slams. The Spaniard is trying to become the first man to win eight titles at the same major event.

Gael Monfils, one of the other victorious home favourites after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, served up a delight when he shocked fifth seed Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 7-5.

Monfils, the world No 81, prevailed in front of an ecstatic Court Philippe Chatrier crowd after four hours three minutes.

The Frenchman, who reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2008 and missed last year's event because of a knee injury, wrapped up the match with his fourth match point when Berdych sent a backhand long.

Published: May 27, 2013 04:00 AM