Li Na, the 2011 women’s champion, beat nemesis Anabel Medina Garrigues in her opening match, 6-3, 6-4. Agnieszka Radwanska, last year’s runner-up at Wimbledon, defeated Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1.
The 6-foot-5 Brands, ranked 59th, came into his match against Nadal with an 0-4 career record at Roland Garros. But he gained a foothold with his big forehand and serves of up to 134 mph, while Nadal’s feared groundstrokes lacked their normal depth and force at the outset.
The capacity crowd on center court sensed a possible upset and began rooting for Brands. But he gave Nadal an opening in the tiebreaker, blowing an easy backhand approach to make it 3-all.
“I was too sure to win the point and lost a little bit of concentration,” Brands said. “That shouldn’t happen against him.”
From there the match quickly turned. On set point Nadal stretched to crack a backhand return into the corner for a winner, sparking his first celebration of the day.
“Winning the tiebreak, well, it was just like some oxygen,” Nadal said. “I could finally breathe.”
He earned his first service break of the match in the third set and held the rest of the way, serving better once he had the lead.
Seeded third but a heavy favorite, Nadal won his 16th consecutive match, and he improved to 34-0 in the first round at Grand Slams. He’s trying to become the first man to win eight titles at the same major event.
Li, seeded No. 6, entered her match against Medina Garrigues with an 0-3 record on clay versus the Spaniard, but raced to a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes and broke serve six times.
Former top-ranked player Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark ended a five-match losing streak by defeating Laura Robson 6-3, 6-2.
No. 4 Radwanska needed less than hour to advance. It was her first match since withdrawing before last week’s Brussels tournament with a recurrence of the right shoulder injury that has bothered her the past couple of years.