PARIS - Rafael Nadal knows this story all too well. Saw it up close the previous time he played in a major tournament, actually.
Early round, main stadium, unknown opponent taking risky swings, 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 yesterday, in Nadal's return to Grand Slam action after missing 7 months with knee trouble, it was 59th-ranked Daniel Brands in the guest-star role.
Like Rosol, Brands employed a go-for-broke style. And for one whole set and most of the next during a first-round match in Court Philippe Chatrier, against the most successful man in Roland Garros history, it worked.
Nadal already 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 coming back to beat a faltering Brands, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3.
"He was trying to hit every ball as hard as he can," Nadal said. "He made me suffer, I can tell you."
There was no such struggle for the other defending champion, Maria Sharapova, who needed all of 54 minutes to overpower 42nd-ranked Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan, 6-2, 6-1. Or for 2011 winner Li Na, a 6-3, 6-4 winner against Anabel Medina Garrigues. Or for 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, who also won in straight sets. Or No. 4-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who kept pace with her younger sister Urszula - producer of a three-set victory over Venus Williams a night earlier - by eliminating Shahar Peer, 6-1, 6-1.