PARIS Rafa Nadal responded to his billing by French Open tournament director Guy Forget as the greatest claycourter in history by brushing aside Benoit Paire 6-1 6-4 6-1 on Monday, launching his bid for a 10th title on the Paris clay.
Relegated to Court Suzanne Lenglen while defending champion Novak Djokovic was swatting aside Spain's Marcel Granollers on the main Philippe Chatrier showcourt, Nadal was imperious as he steamed through the first set in under half an hour.
The heaviest of favourites for what would be his 15th grand slam title, he looked every inch the all-time number one Forget had urged a packed crowd to welcome him as before the players stepped on court.
Both before the match and in courtside comments following his win, Nadal described Paire as a dangerous opponent, and the Frenchman played with more freedom in a closer second set as the Spaniard lost his edge.
Trading baseline rallies, they exchanged breaks to leave Paire leading 4-3. He had two break points in the following game that he failed to covert, the moment at which he indicated the momentum shifted.
"I got two balls, one when I missed my return, and then if it was 5-3 I thought I could finish the set and perhaps I could kind of liberate myself," he told a news conference.
" ...(So) it's a bit frustrating to end a game like that.
Channelling the confidence built up during a 17-match winning streak in taking claycourt titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal then pulled clear as Paire suffered a reaction to taking energy tablets.
The Spaniard won nine of the last 10 games to close out the match in just under two hours, doing precious little to alter the prevailing view that the Roland Garros throne is his to lose.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)