Fifth seed Ivan Dodig saved five match-points against Indian qualifier Vishnu Vardhan before advancing to the second round of the ATP Chennai Open on Monday.
The 36th-ranked Croat fought back from the brink on his 27th birthday to oust unfancied Vardhan 4-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-1 in two hours and 35 minutes.
Vardhan, ranked a lowly 312, had two match-points at 6-5 in the second set and three more in the tie-breaker, but failed to clinch his first ATP tour victory.
Dodig, visibly relieved at drawing level, shrugged off the hot and humid weather to run through the decider at the Nungambakkam tennis stadium.
“It was my first match of the season and I took time to settle down,” said Dodig. “But I am happy I did not give up and fought all the way.”
Sixth seed Italian Fabio Fognini stumbled in his maiden appearance in the tournament, winning just one game against Dudi Sela.
Fognini, a French Open quarter-finalist last year, lost 0-6, 1-6 in under an hour as Sela served superbly and outwitted the Italian with clever cross-court returns.
Sela next plays Benoit Paire of France, who recorded an equally emphatic 6-2, 6-1 victory over Spaniard Pere Riba.
A second Indian wildcard Yuki Bhambri delighted home fans with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Karol Beck of the Slovak Republic.
The 19-year-old Bhambri, a former junior Australian Open champion, missed four match points before defeating the 101st-ranked Beck in an hour and 19 minutes.
“I was under no pressure since I am the lowest ranked player in the draw,” said the Indian, who ended last year at 345.
“There was nothing to lose. I just went out there and enjoyed myself. Luckily, it all went well.”
The top contenders, including number one seed Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, will begin action later in the week after being handed first-round byes.
Tipsarevic, who broke into the top-10 for the first time last year and finished the season ranked ninth, will take on Bhambri in the second round.
The Serb’s main challengers for the title are world number 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain, defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and the big-serving Milos Raonic of Canada.
Meanwhile, India’s number one Somdev Devvarman pulled out of his home event with a shoulder injury and was replaced in the draw by Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the organisers said in a statement.
Roger-Vasselin was signed in as the ‘lucky loser’ after going down to Go Soeda of Japan in the qualifying round earlier on Monday.
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