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PARIS -- Rafael Nadal survived an early scare Monday at the French Open 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.
Later Monday, wild card Gael Monfils of France thrilled a partisan center court crowd by upsetting fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych in the first round of the French Open, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-7 (4), 7-5.
The match took more than four hours and ended at twilight when Berdych hit a backhand long. Monfils then pounded his chest with his fist as the crowd roared one last time. Monfils, a former top-10 player mounting a comeback from a right knee injury, hit 26 aces and was broken only once.
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. "I tried to find my game and resist. He played a fantastic match and put me in a tricky situation."
Nadal, who won a record seventh French Open title last year, improved to 53-1 at Roland Garros. Since returning in February after a seven-month layoff because of a left knee injury, he's 37-2, reaching the finals at all eight previous tournaments he played this year and winning six.
The 6-foot-5 Brands, ranked 59th, gained a foothold in the match 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 took 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.
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.
Michael Russell of the United States retired with a left hamstring injury trailing Martin Klizan 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Klizan plays Nadal in the second round.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia, at 18 the youngest player in the men's draw, made a successful Grand Slam debut by beating 34-year-old Radek Stepanek 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (11). Kyrgios won despite breaking serve only once.
"When you're good in juniors, it doesn't mean automatically you're going to be good in the men's tennis," Stepanek said. "He has some talent. He's serving big. He definitely has a chance."
No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. No. 10 Marin Cilic drubbed Philipp Petzschner 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.