Nadal’s concerned face during his first round match.
Nadal Survives Major Scare- Rafael Nadal has never lost a first round match at a major. Going into Monday’s match against Daniel Brands, fans and experts alike expected one way traffic for Rafa. Fellow writer Chris Hayes and I however, did not. Name Brands has some serious game, and he’s had the best season of his career this year. Rafa struggles with big servers, and Brands certainly has that. During the first set, Nadal held serve easily, but struggled to make in roads on his return games. He had two break ponts at 4-3, but Brands stepped up and dictated those points with his forehand. After 2 punishing forehands at 4-4, Brands earned himself a break point. Nadal shockingly double faulted, and Brands went on to serve out the set with authority. In the early stages of the second set, Nadal started to look more and more concerned. When he’s playing a big server he gets very edgy if he can’t break serve. He had a couple more chances in the second but Brands closed the door emphatically. He forced a tiebreak, and took a 3-0 lead with some monstrous serves and forehands.
The next point was critical to the outcome of the match. Already down a mini-break, Nadal hit a second serve out wide. Brands stepped around to crack a forehand, and he caught it very clean, hitting it inside out. It looked good all the way, but the ball was just millimeters long. Nadal took the next point on a service winner. At 3-2, Brands hit an enormous kick serve pulling Nadal all the way to the linesman’s chair, where he only able to to block the ball short. Brands had the entire court open, and missed one of the easiest shots he had all match. Nadal went on win the tiebreak 7-4, and he started to relax.
He finally broke serve to open the third set, but still looked shaky the rest of the way. Brands lost belief in himself after the tiebreak, so Nadal was able to close out the next two sets 6-4 6-3. Although Nadal escaped, there is definitely reason for concern for Nadal fans. He can usually get away with returning from 10 feet behind the baseline, but he was consistently landing the ball short.
Rafa got away with it on day 1, but with possible upcoming match-ups against Lukas Rosol and Jerzy Janowicz(big serving guys), Nadal needs to step up his game.
Oh, and for the first 2 sets, the look on Nadal’s face was hilarious. He and Uncle Tony looked as if they thought the world was going to end.
The French Seeds Roll- The French Open has not been won by a French player since Yannik Noah, over 30 years ago. Jo Wilfried Tsonga opened his campaign, cruising to a 6-2 6-2 6-4 victory over Aljaz Bedene. His serve looked very strong and his forehand was clicking. Tsonga, the 6 seed, has learned to have more confortable first weeks at majors over the last couple years.
The 7 seed, Richard Gasquet, took care of business in a very professional win over Sergiy Stakhovsky, 6-1 6-4 6-3. The most comedic moment of the day came when Stakhovsky didn’t agree with a line call from the chair, so he took a picture of the ball mark with his phone. He said he was going to appeal the call after the match.
30 year old Julien Benneteau had a tougher match than his compatriots, but he toughed out young Ricardis Berankis 7-6(5) 6-3 5-7 7-6(5).
Five Setters Everywhere- There were a total of 7 five-set matches on Monday. A couple incredible matches(we’ll get to those in a second). Other notables were NCAA champion Steve Johnson going down to Albert Montanes, Pablo Cuevas taking out Adrian Mannarino, and Tobias Kamke taking out Paolo Lorenzi.
Match of the Day- No doubt about this one. Wildcard Gael Monfils and #5 seed Tomas Berdych played the match of the tournament so far. Monfils, who has as much talent as anybody, usually treats matches as if they were exhibitions, took the court with a different look in his eye. The former world number 7 looked focused, and took the opening two sets with some fantastic all court tennis. He was serving awesome, and hadn’t dropped serve yet. Berdych is a real professional though, and you knew he would fight back. He cut back some of the errors, and took the 3rd set in tiebreak. The fourth set was once again tightly contested, but Berdych played very agressive on the big points, and took the 4th set tiebreak 7-4.
The fifth set was special. The crowd on the Phillip Chatrier court was loud and excited. Monfils was all business, I’ve never seen him care that much. Berdych has 3 break points at 2-1, but Monfils used a couple huge serves to get out of trouble. He got a standing ovation when he held serve. The next few games were dominated by big serves. Monfils finished the match with an incredible 26 aces. At 5 all 0-15, Berdych’s serve, Monfils hit an incredible forehand down the line for a winner. He broke serve and finished off the fifth set 7-5, giving his team a long stare after the match. This may well be the return of Gael Monfils.
Gael was all business Monday.
Shot of the Day- This was a tough call. Monfils’ forehand was a close second. However, the winner for today was Jarko Niemenen. In the fifth set in his match against Paul-Henri Mathieu, he hit an unbelievable down the line forehand to break serve. He was about 10 feet behind the baseline, and he pummeled the fearhand. He went on to win the 5 set 6-2.
Coming Up: Chris previews Day 3, which features Novak Djokovic, and we make our Day 3 picks.