Monaco - Rafael Nadal admitted on Monday that his incredible 42-match, 10-year unbeaten run at Monte Carlo will end one day, but he is in no hurry to see that day.
The 26-year-old Spaniard, who last lost on the clay of Monte Carlo as a fresh-faced 16-year-old when then-clay court king Guillermo Coria defeated him in straight sets in the third round, also claimed he is not the clear favourite he has been in the past.
Nadal is bidding for an unprecedented ninth straight title at the Masters event in the heart of the Cote d'Azur but says his recent seven-month injury lay-off means he cannot be treated as the all-conquering clay Cesar of old.
"I cannot say I'm the biggest favourite to win here again," the Spaniard said on Monday as he prepared for his second-round start after a bye.
"This is not an easy event to win. I don't want to lose perspective, but I don't want to lose either.
"Everything in life finishes sometime. Someday the winning will stop, not everything is forever.
"But I'm excited to be here, it is always a high motivation for me to play Monte Carlo."
Nadal, who won the Indian Wells hardcourt Masters 1000 crown three weeks ago and then rested his troublesome knees on the advice of doctors, remains quietly confident of his abilities on clay, where he has dominated for nearly a decade.
While missing seven months of ATP play during the last half of 2012 and well into 2013, the 26-year-old knows that he has the skills to step right back into his role as clay court master.
But he is not happy to be continually fielding questions about the state of his knees or his perceived form.
"I want to focus on the tennis day by day," he said. "I don't want to talk knees, if I'm here I'm here to compete.
"I will try my best and hope to play better each day. I had a fantastic comeback (two February clay titles in Latin America before winning Indian Wells)."
Nadal said that while standing fifth in the world he is not prepared to complain about his ranking.
"You can't be in the top four if you did not play for seven months," he reasoned. "I've always gone day by day and just want to try and keep improving.
"I'm always excited to be back here and have the chance to work hard and try to win. Now my job is to try and play well."
Nadal's unknown compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut earned a first-round upset win as he put out French 11th seed Gilles Simon 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) while Frenchman Benoit Paire beat Croatian Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-4.
Qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin added a French victory as he beat Dutch qualifier Robin Haase 6-3, 6-2.
Finn Jarkko Nieminen defeated slumping Serb Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-2 while Russian veteran Nikolay Davydenko dispatched German qualifier Daniel Brands 6-3, 6-4.
World No.1 Novak Djokovic was testing his injured ankle for another day after vowing to try and regain fitness in time for a Wednesday start at the event which begins the European clay season.
Djokovic hurt the ankle last weekend in a Davis Cup win but has made faster progress than he might have deemed possible and holds out hopes of taking his spot in the draw.
Latest results from the Monte-Carlo Masters on Monday (x denotes seeding):
Marin Cilic (CRO x9) bt Horacio Zeballos (ARG) 6-2, 6-7 (6/8), 6-2
Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) bt Daniel Gimeno-Traver (ESP) 6-4, 6-0
Milos Raonic (CAN x12) bt Julien Benneteau (FRA) 6-1, 6-4
Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) bt Viktor Troicki (SRB) 6-1, 6-2
Fabio Fognini (ITA) bt Andreas Seppi (ITA x15) 3-6, 6-4, 6-4
Benot Paire (FRA) bt Ivan Dodig (CRO) 6-4, 6-4
Roberto Bautista-Agut (ESP) bt Gilles Simon (FRA x11) 6-3, 7-6 (8/6)
Pablo Andujar (ESP) bt Jeremy Chardy (FRA) 6-7 (4/7), 7-5, 6-2
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) bt Daniel Brands (GER) 6-3, 6-4
Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) bt Robin Haase (NED) 6-3, 6-2