If anyone at the French Open needed a reminder, Novak Djokovic was on court to show what champions are made of.
Returning to Roland Garros a year after he lost in the final to Rafael Nadal, the Serb posted a convincing 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 victory over 87th-ranked Jarkko Nieminen on Tuesday. More significantly, he raised his game in a blink of an eye when he needed to.
After dropping his serve in the second set, Djokovic was two points from losing the set when the Finnish player served at 5-3, 30-love. Djokovic hit three excellent returns and broke back when Nieminen sent a backhand long.
The sequence ended Nieminen's resistance and Djokovic wrapped the match, stretching his winning streak to 23 matches.
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"He was the better player for most of the second set," said Djokovic, who is bidding to achieve a career Grand Slam in Paris. "And then I managed to come back and play some good shots. I stayed patient, stayed calm, and overall it was a very solid performance."
Nadal, the nine-time champion in Paris, enjoyed a quiet afternoon on the same center court. Facing 18-year-old French wild-card entry Quentin Halys, the Spaniard was never really tested, progressing to the second round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over his 296th-ranked opponent.
In women's play, top-ranked Serena Williams improved to 58-1 in first-round matches at majors with a 6-2, 6-3 defeat of qualifier Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic.
Nadal, who lost his only match at Roland Garros when he was beaten by Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009, extended his impressive record in the tournament to 67-1.
Although he dropped his serve once in the opening set, Nadal stayed in control until the final point.
There were many question marks surrounding Nadal's form ahead of the tournament after he dropped to seventh in the rankings following a laborious start to the season. He entered the tournament with five losses on clay, the first time he's had more than three in a year since dropping six back in 2003 as a teenager.
His victory over Halys is unlikely to give him much indication about his current level, but at least it was a smooth start to the tournament.
"My feelings have been okay, have been good." Nadal said. "I think I changed good directions with my forehand, very good forehand down the line. After the first three games that I started a little bit slow, then I start moving the ball better. It is the first match and I played well enough."
Things will be harder in the second round for Nadal, who will be up against clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro.
"Obviously it is not a good round, but it is what there is," Nadal said. "I'm going to try to play well and try to have a chance to win."
Because of his low seeding, Nadal could face Djokovic as soon as the quarterfinals this year.
Former top-ranked player Caroline Wozniacki made a strong start and stopped Karin Knapp's good run on clay this season with a 6-3, 6-0 win to reach the second round.
Knapp arrived in Paris on the back of her second career title at the Nuremberg Open last week and with an 8-2 record on clay. But she was no match for the fifth-seeded Wozniacki, who limited her mistakes to nine unforced errors.
"It was really close in the beginning, a lot of deuces and advantages. She obviously is playing really well," Wozniacki said. "So for me it was a tough first round, but nothing unusual from my other draws this year. I was ready for it and just kind of excited. I knew the longer we played the better for me, so I didn't mind at all."
Also advancing was two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who struggled during three sets in her tupsy-turvy match with 80th-ranked Marina Erakovic before securing a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win.
On a half-empty Court 3, Jelena Jankovic was the first loser among the seeded players in action on Tuesday. The 25th-seeded Jankovic, a three-time semifinalist in Paris, lost 6-3, 6-4 to qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva.
In the men's draw, seventh-seeded David Ferrer clinched his 300th career match-win on his favorite surface with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 victory over 94th-ranked Lukas Lacko, and 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic breezed past Robin Haase 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to win his first Grand Slam match this year.
Cilic is playing in his first major of the year after missing the Australian Open because of a shoulder injury.