Novak Djokovic swept past promising Italian teenager Jannik Sinner 6-4, 6-2 in Monte Carlo on Wednesday on the Serbian world No 1 first appearance since claiming the Australian Open in February.
And the man he is seeded to meet in the final, Rafael Nadal, encountered even less resistance in brushing aside Federico Delbonis 6-1, 6-2 on his delayed return after injury since losing in the quarter-finals in Melbourne.
Sinner, 19, shot to prominence by making it into this month’s Miami Open final.
The world number 22 had seen off Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 at this Masters 1000 event to book his first ever date with Djokovic.
But it proved a one-sided contest at the Monte Carlo Country Club, with Djokovic sweeping into the next round in one hour and 34 minutes.
“Solid” is how Djokovic described his own performance.
“I have to be satisfied considering I think I had a tough draw for the first round, playing Sinner, who is in form, who is striking the ball very well.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge. I walked into the court with the right intensity, right focus.
“I just started my clay court campaign, so it’s a long way to Paris (and the French Open). Hopefully I’ll be able to play consistently well and stay healthy.”
Sinner said his focus was “always about improving”.
“That’s what I’m trying to do. Try to learn from this match today as well, even if sometimes it’s tough to accept,” added the Italian.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic will next face for the first time Briton Dan Evans - a “very smart player” - who ousted Hubert Hurkacz, Sinner’s Miami conqueror, for a place in the quarter-finals.
Nadal off to ‘good start’
Later Wednesday, Nadal took just 81 minutes to send world No 87 Delbonis packing, with Grigor Dimitrov waiting for him in the next round.
Nadal is in the hunt for his 12th title in the Principality ahead of his pursuit of a 14th French Open crown at Roland Garros next month and what would be a record 21st Grand Slam.
The Mallorcan was in action three days after practising with Daniil Medvedev, the Russian second seed who was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid-19 on Monday.
The world number three was forced to skip a number of scheduled tournaments since Australia with a lingering back problem.
But in his first match since defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarter-finals, Nadal struck 16 winners to beat Argentina’s Delbonis.
“It was a good start, always good to come back to competition with a victory,” said the 34-year-old.
“I think I played a solid match and I hope to keep going.”
Fifth seed Alexander Zverev eased past Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-3, while Miami semi-finalist Andrey Rublev made short work of Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso, winning 6-3, 6-2.
Fabio Fognini, the 2019 champion, defeated Australia’s Jordan Thompson 6-3, 6-3 to also reach the last 16. The tournament was not held last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Jannik Sinner (ITA) 6-4, 6-2
Dan Evans (GBR) bt Hubert Hurkacz (POL x13) 6-4, 6-1
David Goffin (BEL x11) bt Marco Cecchinato (ITA) 6-4, 6-0
Alexander Zverev (GER x5) bt Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) 6-3, 6-3
Christian Garin (CHI x16) bt John Millman (AUS) 6-1, 6-4
Lucas Pouille (FRA) bt Alexei Popyrin (AUS) 7-5, 2-6, 6-3
Andrey Rublev (RUS x6) bt Salvatore Caruso (ITA) 6-3, 6-2
Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x9) bt Tommy Paul (USA) 6-3, 6-4
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x14) bt Jeremy Chardy (FRA) 7-6 (7/3), 6-4
Rafael Nadal (ESP x3) bt Federico Del Bonis (ARG) 6-1, 6-2
Casper Ruud (NOR) bt Diego Schwartzman (ARG x7) 6-3, 6-3
Pablo Carreno-Busta (ESP x12) bt Karen Khachanov (RUS) 6-2, 6-3
Fabio Fognini (ITA x15) bt Jordan Thompson (AUS) 6-3, 6-3
Filip Krajinovic (SRB) bt Juan Ignacio Londero (ARG) 6-0, 6-3