Los Angeles: Latvia`s Ernests Gulbis returned from an injury layoff to defeat Lukas Lacko 7-5, 7-5 in the opening round of the 619,000 dollar ATP Farmers Classic event.
Gulbis, who turns 22 next month, was playing his first match in two months after injuring his right hamstring at the French Open.
Gulbis had to shake off the rust in the early going but clawed his way to victory with the help of 11 aces.
"You just win whatever it takes," said Gulbis, who was facing Slovakia`s Lacko for the first time. "You push, you run, you fight and you cheat, you do whatever it takes."
Then he quickly corrected himself.
"Of course, it is not possible to cheat. In futures though, I was cheating a lot," he said.
Joking aside, Gulbis already has one win this season on US soil (Delray Beach) and is looking for another this week on the hardcourts at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
The youngest player in the draw is maturing on the court and it is showing in his rankings as he has reached No. 28 in the world.
"I didn`t care how I play, I just wanted to win by whatever score," Gulbis said. "Ugly tennis. I need to get some wins going. If I play more matches I am going to get better."
In other first round matches Monday, German veteran Rainer Schuettler was handed a 6-3, 3-0 win when Argentina`s Horacio Zeballos had to withdraw in the second set with a injured left shoulder and sixth seed Janko Tipsarevic breezed past Colombia`s Santiago Giraldo 6-1, 6-0.
Fifth seeded Gulbis next faces the winner of a match between Colombia`s Alejandro Falla and Slovakia`s Karol Beck.
Gulbis broke Lacko`s serve three times on seven chances and saved five of six break points in the one hour, 41 minute match on centre court.
"The first set was really good," he said. "The second set I was getting a bit tired.
"It was a tough win because I didn`t feel the ball really well. I had to go in much earlier than I usually want to go. I served well and returned well."
Gulbis posted his first ATP Tour title in Delray Beach in February and reached the semi-finals in Memphis and Rome.
Schuettler reached the second round here after seventh-seeded Zeballos pulled out.
"I`m a little sad because I know this is a really important tournament," said Zeballos. "I wanted to win some matches, but what can I do? I`m just going to try and think about the next tournament and be focused for that."
Schuettler, who was once ranked fifth in the world, will square off against Robby Ginepri, of the US, or a qualifier next.
In the late match, Israel`s Dudi Sela beat Xavier Malisse of Belgium 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.
Britain`s Andy Murray is the top seed in the tournament as he makes his Los Angeles debut here. This year`s field lacks star power as Murray is the lone player ranked in the top 15 in the world entered. Murray is playing his first tournament since reaching the semis at Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, Mardy Fish, who is fresh off his second consecutive title in as many weeks, pulled out of the tournament on Monday night.
Tournament officials said the eighth seeded Fish arrived in Los Angeles for the event but was too fatigued to compete.
Fish, who is ranked 37th in the world, has won two titles this year (Newport and Atlanta) and is 28-11 overall.
"Due to fatigue and a sprained ankle in Atlanta I am not in good shape to play," Fish said. "I need to rest in order to compete at a high level"
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic was also expected to compete in Los Angeles but withdrew because of personal reasons.
The festivities at UCLA kicked off Saturday with an exhibition match between US tennis legends John McEnroe and Andre Agassi designed to raise money for Agassi`s charity.