PARIS, May 27 (Reuters) - It is rare that Rafa Nadal steps off court at the French Open and talks about being made to "suffer" at the hands of an opponent.
Yet such was the impact of Daniel Brands's free-swinging display in their first-round match on Monday that the seven-times champion was left scratching his head at how the German could be ranked 59th in the world.
"I don't know where Brands is in the rankings but I can tell you that he can't be around 60th. The way he played, I just don't believe it," Nadal told reporters after moving nervously into the second round with a 4-6 7-6 6-4 6-3 win.
"He made me suffer, I can tell you, and I'd like to pay tribute to what he did."
For a brief period on Court Philippe Chatrier, it looked like the German was on the verge of pulling off one of the biggest shocks in the history of grand slam tennis, leading Nadal by a set and 3-0 ahead in a second set tiebreak.
That was when the game turned on its head. Brands netted a high-risk backhand slice at 3-2 and Nadal restored parity by winning five of the next six points.
"It was just like some oxygen," Nadal said about winning the tiebreak. "I could finally breathe and it enabled me to think about the rest of the match with less pressure weighing down on me because we were neck and neck.
"Then the match went down a different track and I started taking over a bit and that's how I could send back, return his second service."
It was Nadal's first grand slam outing since losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round of Wimbledon last year.
There then followed a seven-month absence from the tour as Nadal recovered from a troublesome knee problem that has dogged him throughout his career.
Since his return he has won six of the eight tournaments he has played but he retains a boyish delight in simply being on court after such a lengthy period out.
"I'm delighted with the situation as it currently stands," he added. "I find myself in a state of affairs that, only a few months back, none of my team could ever have dreamed of.
"That's why I'm tasting every moment. What's happened is behind me. Each passing day is a little less tension and I think I have done more than I could possibly have dreamt about doing only a few months back." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)