Nadal required just over two hours on Court Philippe-Chatrier to defeat his Belarusian opponent 6-4 6-4 6-2 as he bids for a record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros.
The Spaniard’s 12 French Open crowns are more than any player has ever won at a single major, but Nadal is not relying on his history at the clay-court Grand Slam to get him by.
“I’m going to practise every single day and play the matches with the most positive attitude possible,” he said on court after his victory in Paris.
“The only thing I can do is just stay positive, do my job, try my best every single day. That’s what I did since I arrived here – practised with the right attitude, being positive, and that’s what I did today in the match.”
The French Open typically begins in late May and runs into June, but the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay this year, with the tournament getting under way on Sunday under much colder conditions than players are used to during an outdoor tournament.
“It’s true that it’s a different Roland Garros, it’s completely different than what we are used to, the meteorological conditions are very challenging, but here we are to try our best, and for me this year is as special as every one that I am here in Roland Garros,” Nadal said.
The French Open marks just the second competition the Spaniard has played since February, following his efforts at the Italian Open earlier this month.
The 34-year-old was upset in the quarter-finals in Rome, losing to Diego Schwartzman in straight sets, so was glad to respond quickly with an opening-round victory at Roland Garros.
“It is a process that I have to keep working [on],” Nadal said. “Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy. I said in Rome when I played the first two matches well, I said: ‘Okay, don’t believe things are going to be like this.’ I know how difficult are the comebacks.
“I was playing some good points. I did some good forehands, winners down the line, that’s a key shot for me,” he said. “And then I had to play a little bit longer. I played sometimes too short. But in general terms, that’s a normal first match of Roland Garros, no? Coming with the situation that I am coming from.
“I am happy, honestly. I did the things that I had to do. I didn’t expect much more. I didn’t expect less.”
Nadal plays Mackenzie McDonald of the United States in the second round on Wednesday.