NEW YORK: Six-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal made an impressive start to his quest for a first US Open title on Wednesday with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
The third-seeded Spaniard fired seven aces and made only 10 unforced errors to win in one hour, 41 minutes, improving to 7-0 lifetime against Gasquet and booking a second-round date against Germany's 129th-ranked Nicolas Kiefer.
"It felt good," Nadal said. "I served well in the important moments. I played very well on my backhand, which is very important in my game. I'm very happy to be in the second round."
Nadal can complete a career Grand Slam by capturing his first Flushing Meadows crown and a favorable draw could help the reigning Australian Open champion achieve that goal.
"I hope I have the last Slam title here. They say the last is the most special," Nadal said.
"Repeating the same like Australia is very difficult. I am not thinking about that right now, just thinking about my next opponent, thinking about playing well.
"I know I'm in the right way so I think if I have the chance to win few more matches and I get the confidence, we will see what happens."
Knee tendinitis kept Nadal from defending his 2008 Wimbledon title and sidelined him for two months, making this his first Grand Slam match since losing to Sweden's Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open, a defeat that snapped his four-year title streak at Roland Garros.
"Seems like I was two years outside of competition. I was two months," Nadal said.
Nadal reached a Cincinnati semi-final in his last Open tuneup and shrugged off any notion of lingering knee trouble.
"I don't have pain so I don't think about it," Nadal said. "I think I'm playing and practicing with a good attitude. That's the important thing right now, trying to get into a good rhythm for the matches."
Nadal, whose best US Open run came to last year's semi-finals, joked that his new haircut "makes him feel younger" and said his unexpected mid-season break has left him fresher at this year's US Open than ever before.
"I'm fresher than ever in this tournament," he said. "I don't know if this fresher is good but I'm fresh."
Nadal again stressed his support for 46th-ranked Gasquet, who is playing his first top-level event since serving a 2 1/2-month suspension following a doping ban off a positive test for cocaine.
"It's tough to come back," Gasquet said. "I've been back about a month. It's not a long time to get ready, especially against Rafa. I'm not very good. But I will come back. I'm not sure when but I will come back."
The second round begins later with world number one Roger Federer, the five-time defending champion, facing Germany's Simon Greul and Aussie Lleyton Hewitt meeting Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela.
A triumph by Federer will ensure Nadal cannot replace him atop the rankings after the Open. A third-round victory for Federer would ensure he remains world number one no matter what happens in the Flushing Meadows fortnight.
Argentine sixth seed Juan Martin Del Potro advanced with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory over countryman Juan Monaco. The 20-year-old French Open semi-finalist will next face Austrian Jurgen Melzer.
Former world number one Marat Safin concluded his Grand Slam career with a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 first-round loss to Melzer. The 29-year-old Russian, a two-time Grand Slam winner, will retire at year's end.
Safin, who won the 2000 US Open and 2005 Australian Open, might play again this year, he is happy the Slam farewell tour has finally run its course.
"It's OK," he said. "It's the end. It's the last one. Could have been better ending, but still OK. I'm looking forward to after my career so I have no regrets. I don't care about losses anymore. I have no worries about it at all."
Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero ousted France's Fabrice Santoro 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. It was Santoro's men's record 69th Slam appearance and 45th in a row but also the last as the veteran will retire at the end of the season.