PARIS — Rafael Nadal knows this story well. All too well. Saw it up close the previous time he played in a major tournament.
Early round, main stadium, unknown opponent taking risky swings and putting everything in. At Wimbledon nearly a year ago, it was 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol who took it to Nadal and beat him in the second round. At the French Open on Monday, in Nadal's return to Grand Slam action after missing seven months with knee trouble, it was 59th-ranked Daniel Brands in the guest-star role.
Like Rosol, Brands is 6 feet 5 and lanky. Like Rosol, Brands employed a go-for-broke style and was hitting big. And for one set and most of the next during a first-round match at Court Philippe Chatrier, against the most successful man in Roland Garros history, it worked.
Nadal owns a record seven French Open titles, including the past three. His bid to become the only man with eight championships at any of tennis' quartet of most important tournaments got off to a slow start, before he restored order by beating Brands 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-3.
"He was trying to hit every ball as hard as he can," said Nadal, who improved to 37-2 this season, with 16 victories in a row. "He made me suffer, I can tell you."
Brands came in 0-4 at the French Open, and with a sub-.500 career record in all tour matches, and his strategy was right out of Rosol's playbook: Keep points short and aim for the lines.
"That's the way. If you give Nadal time, there's no chance. You have to be aggressive. That's my view," Rosol, now ranked 36th, said Monday after winning his first-round match. "If other players play aggressive against him, that's the only way to beat him."
There was no such struggle for the tournament's other defending champion, Maria Sharapova, who needed all of 54 minutes to overpower 42nd-ranked Hsieh Su-wei 6-2, 6-1. Or for 2011 women's titlist Li Na, a 6-3, 6-4 winner against Anabel Medina Garrigues. Or for 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, who also won in straight sets.
No. 4-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, last year's runnerup at Wimbledon, defeated Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1. Li and Radwanska play Americans next. Li goes up against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who got past Lourdes Dominguez Lino, part of a 6-1 day for U.S. women, including wins by No. 17 Sloane Stephens, No. 29 Varvara Lepchenko, Melanie Oudin, Vania King and Madison Keys.
Two U.S. men won to set up a meeting for a spot in the third round: Tampa resident John Isner and Ryan Harrison.
The older Radwanska will now face American Mallory Burdette, who won her French Open debut Sunday. Asked what she knew about her second-round opponent, Radwanska smiled.
"To be honest, not much. Nothing at all, actually," Radwanska freely admitted. "I might Google her."