Murray, ranked 52 in the world, went into the match without a victory on clay this season, and previously indicated he might consider sitting out the French Open.
Defeat to Italian qualifier Andrea Vavassori at the Madrid Masters had equalled the worst run of Murray’s professional career, and he was hoping for an upturn in fortunes when he entered the Open Aix Provence Credit Agricole.
However, the draw could have been kinder, pairing Murray with former world number six Monfils, whom he last met in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2014. The pair first played each other on the ATP Tour 17 years ago.
Monfils was also looking to rebuild some consistent form, having fallen down the rankings to 322nd following a lengthy injury lay-off.
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The opening set stayed on serve until Murray broke in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead. Monfils, though, soon wiped that out with a quick break back after Murray sent a return into the net.
Murray kept the pressure on Monfils’ next service game and broke again following a double fault by the Frenchman before then saving a break-back chance to hold for a 5-2 advantage. The 35-year-old Scot confidently served out to love to take the first set 6-3 in 44 minutes.
Monfils saved a couple of break points at the start of the second set, which remained on serve until the fifth game when a long return from him saw Murray edge 3-2 ahead. Monfils was broken again in the seventh game, sending a backcourt return into the net.
Murray claimed a first match point chance, again holding to love, to complete his victory in one hour and 22 minutes, and he will face Laurent Lokoli in the second round after the Frenchman came from behind to beat world number 60 Albert Ramos-Vinolas 3-6 6-4 7-5.
Additional reporting by PA Sport.