PARIS (AFP) - Rafael Nadal began his campaign for a 10th French Open crown with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 first-round win over world No. 296 Quentin Halys on Tuesday.
The brutal, quickfire demolition of the 18-year-old Frenchman threw down the gauntlet to top seed Novak Djokovic, who followed Nadal onto Court Philippe Chatrier to face Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen.
Nadal, seeded a humble six this year - his lowest for a decade - needed just one hour and 50 minutes to record his 67th career win at Roland Garros.
The 28-year-old Spaniard, who is seeded to meet Djokovic in the quarter-finals, came into the tournament without a European claycourt title for the first time since 2005 and with many in the sport writing him off as a spent force.
But in a cheeky riposte to his critics, the 14-time major winner played with the number "9" stitched into the heels of his tennis shoes to remind people of his astonishing record at the tournament where he has only ever lost once.
Halys, making his Grand Slam debut, was broken five times and made 52 unforced errors. Nadal, meanwhile, goes on to face either compatriot Nicolas Almagro or Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov for a place in the last 32.
"He was aggressive and took risks. This is the way of modern players. They hit the ball stronger and quicker because they go for winners all the time. But that means there are more mistakes," said Nadal.
"I played well. I changed direction with my forehands down the line. After the first three games I was moving better.
"I have had ups and downs this season. I am trying to avoid that happening here. But I am here to play well and compete. That is my mentality and the goal is always the same."