Juan Del Potro began Monday what he hopes is a comeback to the ATP after almost a year out with a wrist injury, struggling to overcome Spain?s Feliciano Lopez in a three-hour, 17-minute marathon at the Medibank International.
The Argentine held his serve for a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (7-3) first-round win, the 20-ace victory coming just short of a year from his last ATP success ?I didn?t expect this kind of match for the first one, but we played a beautiful match, very close,? said the winner.
?Feliciano is a fantastic player in this kind of surfaces. I played good tennis again. I feel good all on my match, finally I won a match after a year.
?I?m still thinking in this tournament; I want to still win here.
Of course I?m ready to fight again.? Sixth seed Lopez handed the 22-year-old a loss in Tokyo in October, which sent the South American back home in a first abbreviated Asian comeback attempt after hurting his wrist in January 2010 and undergoing surgery in May.
?I feel happy for my victory, for everything,? said Del Potro. ?If I can play without pain, it?s much better. My wrist is fine, I?m just feeling tired because it was very hot and it was a long match.
But it?s normal.? Tournament defending champion Marcos Baghdatis pulled the pin on his participation after injuring his groin during a practice session last week.
The popular Cypriot who won the title a year ago over Richard Gasquet was replaced in the draw by Pole Lucasz Kubut, who goes directly into the second round, where Baghdatis would have begun play.
?I felt some pain a few days ago in the left groin,? said Baghdatis, ranked 20th. ?I?ve been working with my physio, and it?s a bit better, but I didn?t want to risk anything with the Australian Open starting? January 17.
?I?m disappointed with the withdrawal,? he said. ?I?m the holder, and I enjoy playing here in front of family and friends, but sometimes you have to take tough decisions.? In other men?s results, Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine beat German Benjamin Becker 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6) while German Florian Mayer, who had unconventionally to share a car to the courts with his opponent James Ward, later defeated the Briton 7-5, 6-0.
Del Potro had lost to Lopez in their past three matches dating to 2008, but the Argentine showed he would put up a fight to return to the ATP elite after his ranking dropped to 258, forcing him to play the event on a wild card.
His ATP ranking is to be protected at fifth in the world for a maximum of nine events expiring the week before the Wimbledon start.
Lopez had a chance to post his fourth-straight win in the series but failed to convert a match point in the second-set tiebreaker after missing on five break chances in that set.
Del Potro?s confidence began to build in the long-running contest, interrupted briefly in the first set for drizzle. The Argentine levelled at a set apiece on his fourth opportunity of the second set and earned the welcome victory a set later on a final Lopez error.
On the women?s side, seventh-seeded Victoria Azarenka began with a victory over Russian Ekaterina Makarova 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. China?s number eight Li Na beat Australian Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 6-2.