California: Juan Martin del Potro, playing his first match since winning at Delray Beach, defeated former top-10 player Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-0 on Thursday at the Indian Wells at California.
Argentina's Del Potro beat the Czech and former world number eight in a controlled and powerful fashion to reach the second round as he continues a comeback from surgery on his right wrist that forced him to miss most of last season.
"I broke his serve very soon in the match and it gave me confidence with my serve," Del Potro said.
This marked the first time Del Potro has beaten Stepanek in three career meetings. He lost to the Czech twice in 2009. Oddly enough one of those losses was in Paris when del Potro first started having problems with his wrist. Del Potro was down 4-0 in the first set when he pulled out of the Paris match.
"I felt bad in that match and then I took a rest then came to the Australian Open with pain in my wrist and after that I said. 'I need to see a doctor'. It was very frustrating," said Del Potro, who beat Janko Tipsarevic in the Delray Beach final last month.
Del Potro, 22, advanced to the second round, where he will face defending champion Ivan Ljubicic, who received a bye through the first round of the $9 million dollar hardcourt tournament.
"He is the last champion and he has a strong serve and a nice backhand," Del Potro said of Ljubicic. "If I focus I have a chance to beat him."
Unseeded del Potro won five of eight break-point opportunities and saved 83 percent of his break-point chances in the 84-minute match on the centre court stadium.
Del Potro's victory highlighted the opening day of the 96-player men's draw.
Like Ljubicic, three-time former champion Roger Federer has a bye. Federer will face the winner of a first-round match between Japan's Kei Nishikori and Igor Andreev of Russia.
The men's draw also features world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, hard serving Ivo Karlovic of Croatia and reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic.
Del Potro won the 2009 US Open for his first Grand Slam title. His best finish in Indian Wells was a quarter-final berth in 2009.
The son of a veterinarian father who played semi pro rugby in Argentina and a school-teacher mother, Del Potro turned pro in 2005. He now has eight career ATP titles, including one Grand Slam victory at the 2009 US Open.
The former world number four says the wrist feels good and he's ready to challenge the heavyweights again.
"It is a long road to be a top player again but I am going to try to do it," Del Potro said.
In other first round men's matches on Thursday, Xavier Malisse of Belgium defeated Flavio Cipolla of Italy 6-1, 6-4, Germany's Rainer Schuttler stopped Robin Haase 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 and Ryan Sweeting of the US swept past Spain's Marcel Granollers 6-4, 6-1.
Somdev Devvarman of India defeated Adrian Mannarino of France 6-2, 6-3, Victor Hanescu of Romainia stopped Andreas Seppi of Italy 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 and Janko Tipsarevic beat Tobias Kamke 6-2, 6-0.
On the women's side, China's Peng Shuai defeated Czech Renata Voracova 7-5, 6-1, Simona Halep of Romania defeated Nuria Llagostera of Spain 0-6, 6-2, 6-4 and Britain's Elena Baltacha rallied to beat Italy's Roberta Vinci 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Second-seeded Belgium Kim Clijsters begins her run at Indian Wells on Friday when she faces Russian Alla Kudryavtseva. Sixth-seeded Jelena Jankovic takes on American Coco Vandeweghe in another second-round match.
Prominent men's contests on Friday feature rising Canadian star Milos Raonic, who faces Turkey's Marsel Ilhan.