By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) - Roland Garros was abuzz as Rafa Nadal's belated first appearance at this year's French Open loomed but it was less celebrated Spaniard David Ferrer who was first in action on Tuesday, bustling through to the second round.
Defending champion Nadal, looking to shake off a confidence crisis and win a record-extending 10th title here, topped a Court Phillipe Chatrier program also featuring the man most likely to steal his crown, Novak Djokovic, and Serena Williams.
That trio own a combined 41 grand slam singles titles between them and while the day three schedule was heavily-loaded for those with tickets for the main showcourt, there was plenty of quality elsewhere around the grounds.
Seventh seed Ferrer, runner-up to Nadal two years ago, needed little more than an hour to thrash Slovakian Lukas Lacko 6-1 6-3 6-1, about the same time U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic required to hammer Dutchman Robin Haase 6-2 6-4 6-2.
Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, the women's champion in 2009, was made to work hard by powerful Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, winning 6-1 4-6 6-2.
Francesca Schiavone, another former women's singles champion, was also in action later on an outside court as the first round stretched into a third day.
As an aperitif to the center court menu, double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova fought past New Zealander Marina Erakovic 6-4 3-6 6-4.
At 33, seventh seed Ferrer is running out of time to embellish his admirable career with a major title but if he never does, it will not be for the want of trying.
The 2013 runner-up racked up his 37th career win at Roland Garros, second only among Spaniards, to the 66 Nadal has earned in a decade of unprecedented dominance at the claycourt slam.
Ferrer lost his opening service game but was untroubled thereafter as he swept past the world number 94.
Should Nadal fail to beat teenage French wildcard Quentin Halys, the world number 296 later, and make it 67 Paris would probably come to a standstill.
Djokovic, bidding to complete his career grand slam and become the first man for 23 years to win the year's first two majors, faces Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen.
World number one Williams opens her quest for a third Roland Garros title against Czech qualifier Andrea Hlavackova.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)