MONTE CARLO - Rafa Nadal gave his troublesome knees a quick outing on Wednesday as the Spaniard launched his bid for a record eighth successive Monte Carlo Masters title with a 6-4 6-3 win over Finland's Jarkko Nieminen.
The 10-times grand slam champion was joined in the third round of the season's first big claycourt tournament by world number one Novak Djokovic, who thrashed Italian Andreas Seppi 6-1 6-4.
It was not all smooth sailing for the Spaniards though as last year's finalist David Ferrer, the fifth seed, suffered a shock 6-3 6-2 loss to Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.
Nadal resumed full training last week after a right knee injury forced him to pull out of his semi-final clash with Andy Murray in Miami.
Though he struggled to produce his dazzling claycourt game during a cloudy afternoon, he showed ill-effect of the injury as he recorded his 40th win at the chic Mediterranean venue, where he has been unbeaten since 2005.
"I believe that I played a really normal match, nothing special. Nothing very bad, but nothing very good," Nadal told a news conference.
With tennis great Bjorn Borg watching on, Nadal easily frustrated Nieminen with his range of brutal forehand shots.
The second seed, who is hoping to win a seventh Roland Garros trophy and thus break the record he shares with Borg when the French Open begins next month, will next play Kazakhstan qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin.
Serbia's Djokovic, who is chasing Nadal's French Open crown after winning the last three grand slam events, had a flying start to go 4-0 up but was less impressive afterwards and needed 88 minutes to edge out Seppi.
Djokovic easily grabbed the first set but was made to work a little harder in the second as Seppi, who had lost their six previous ties, played more aggressively.
"For the first official match (on clay) since Roland Garros last year, it's satisfying," Djokovic told reporters.
"We had a couple of long games but I served very well when I needed to."
The top seed will take on 16th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat Australian teenager Bernard Tomic 6-2 5-7 6-1.
Djokovic, who beat the unpredictable Ukrainian in straight sets at last year's US Open, said the threat would be bigger this time as clay favoured Dolgopolov's game.
"You expect the unexpected from him," Djokovic said.
"He comes up with some drop shots, he changes the pace very much. That's why he's very dangerous on clay, which is a slower surface and gives him more time to come up with his shots."
The unexpected happened on the central court as Bellucci destroyed world number six David Ferrer, who arrived in Monte Carlo with three titles and a 24-3 win-loss record this season.
The left-handed Brazilian, who was hammered in straight sets by Ferrer in their three previous ties, harassed the Spaniard with a combination of powerful forehands and defensive two-handed backhands.
"It was difficult mentally, physically, I played a lot of matches and I am a bit exhausted," a dejected Ferrer said.
Czech Tomas Berdych moved past Croatia's Marin Cilic 7-6 6-1, while eighth-seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro defeated Italian Potito Starace by the same score.
Serb Janko Tipsarevic, the seventh seed, advanced after beating Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-2 6-3 and will next face Frenchman Gilles Simon, who hammered Federico Gil 6-3 6-0.
France's Julien Benneteau recovered from a break down in each set to upset 15th seed Juergen Melzer 6-4 6-3 to set up a third-round tie with Andy Murray.