Top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt had to overcome a stiff challenge at the start of his clay court season on Tuesday before reaching the second round of the Hamburg Masters with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Markus Hantschk, a big-hitting German wild card.
"He threw the kitchen sink and everything he had at me," Hewitt said. "It's good to come away with a win from such a tight match."
The Australian used his full range of powerful ground strokes to breeze through the first set against the German, who was playing only his second ATP tournament of the year.
But Hewitt fell behind 3-1 at the start of the second and had to save two break points to avoid falling two breaks behind.
The German, who is ranked 210th, squandered two more break points in the seventh game, then saved one himself in the next before serving out the set. Hantschk played with amazing confidence, going for corners just as much as the Australian.
Hewitt, last year's Wimbledon champion, was punching the air after fighting off another break point in the third game of the decisive set but Hantschk showed no sign of slowing down in the compelling match.
The Australian barely held serve in the seventh game, saving another break point when a net cord allowed him to smash an open volley.
Hewitt blasted a return winner and let out a primal scream to set up two match points on Hantschk's serve at 5-4. But the German wasn't finished fighting and Hewitt wasted both, then netted a forehand to squander the third.
On the fourth, Hantschk hit a forehand wide and Hewitt had his victory after battling for two hours and 23 minutes.
"I was nervous at the start but I played really well in the second and third. Had I served a little bit better, I think I would have had a good a chance of winning," said Hantschk, who converted only one of nine break points.
Hantschk, 25, took Hewitt to five sets at the French Open in 2000, the year he rose to No. 71 in the world before a wrist injury slowed his career.
Hewitt regained the No. 1 ranking at the start of the week, following Andre Agassi's first-round loss at the Italian Open last week. Agassi, who held the top spot for just a week, is skipping the US$2.4 million Hamburg event, a major warm-up for the French Open that starts May 26.
Second-seeded Carlos Moya of Spain also needed three sets to advance to the second round, overcoming qualifier Scott Draper of Australia 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.