PARIS — Rafael Nadal hopped, spun and threw an overhand punch toward his friends and family, stirring memories of past celebrations on his favorite 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 yesterday 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, who had lost only 14 sets in 53 previous matches at the French Open, 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.”
Nadal, 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 tournaments he played and winning six.
Defending women’s champion Maria Sharapova needed only 54 minutes to advance, beating Hsieh Su-wei 6-2, 6-1. The No. 2-seeded Sharapova lost eight points in eight service games.
While Nadal took center stage, U.S. women fanned out to remote courts and quietly went 6-1. That included victories by Madison Keys, who won her Roland Garros debut, and by Melanie Oudin, who ousted No. 28 Tamira Paszek 6-4, 6-3. No. 17 Sloane Stephens, who reached the fourth round last year, beat Karin Knapp 6-2, 7-5.
American Ryan Harrison won a match at Roland Garros for the first time in three tries, beating Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4). Harrison next plays fellow American and good friend John Isner, who improved to 4-4 at Roland Garros by beating Carlos Berlocq 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.