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 2 hours, 35 minutes.
Vardhan, ranked a lowly 312, had two match points at 6-5 in the second set and three more in the tiebreaker, but he 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, but I am happy I did not give up and fought all the way,” Dodig said.
Sixth seed Italian Fabio Fognini stumbled in his maiden appearance in the tournament, winning just one game against Dudi Sela of Israel.
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 wild card, Yuki Bhambri, delighted the home fans with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Karol Beck of Slovakia.
The 19-year-old Bhambri, a former junior Australian Open champion, missed four match points before defeating the 101st-ranked Beck in 1 hour, 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 No. 345. “There was nothing to lose. I just went out there and enjoyed myself. Luckily, it all went well.”
The top contenders, including No. 1 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 No. 9, will take on Bhambri in the second round.
The Serb’s main challengers for the title are world No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain, defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and the big-serving Milos Raonic of Canada.
Meanwhile, India’s No. 1 Somdev Devvarman pulled out of his home event with a shoulder injury and he was replaced in the draw by Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
Roger-Vasselin was signed in as the “lucky loser” after going down to Go Soeda of Japan in qualifying.