Estoril: Robin Soderling coasted in the first and last sets but had to fight for his life in the second to emerge with a 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-1 defeat of Jeremy Chardy to win his opening battle at the Estoril Open on Wednesday.
The Swedish top seed needed almost two hours to go past his French opponent, who put up a huge struggle at the midway point of the second-round contest.
Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, seeded sixth, handed France another defeat on the day as he beat Eduard Roger-Vasselin 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Soderling is making what amounts to his start on the clay as the run-up to Roland Garros takes flight. The world number five lost in an opening match a week ago in Barcelona, suffering with the vestiges of Achilles tendon and knee injuries which he now says are behind him.
Neverthless, the top seed didn't have it easy against Chardy, who exploded into form after losing the opening set in 28 quick minutes. Soderling needed a comeback against the number 53 challenger to take the third and move ahead at the Estadio Nacionale on perfect, sunny spring day.
Soderling is trying to re-create the magic he made at the start of the season, when he won three titles from four events and raced away to an 18-1 record. But the wheels came off in March with three straight-set defeats as his injuries and illness set in.
Soderling skipped the traditional clay opening week in Monte Carlo to recover but barely made an impression in Barcelona as he crashed out to Croatian Ivan Dodig.
He will aim to build on his Estoril form when he plays a quarter final against either eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro or Colombian Alejandro Falla.
Soderling ended his tight victory with five aces to six for Chardy, forcing the Frenchman to save nine of 16 break points. Soderling failed to serve out a straight set win after the break-strewn second set but recovered poise in the third to race away with it.
Chardy saved face with his final ace to finally win a game, 1-5 before Soderling took the victory on the first of three match points.
Bellucci and his opponent played for a shade under three hours before the Brazilian came away with a win which will pit him against the winner from third-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or France or Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.
In women's play, the top three seeds reached the last eight, with number one Alisa Kleybanova of Russia putting out Mathlide Johansson of France 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. Second seed Jarmila Gajdosova won a battle with fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua, playing for the first time on the WTA since Wimbledon due to injury, 6-2, 6-4.
Czech number three Klara Zakopalova came back against Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Sixth seed Elena Vesnina of Russia and number eight Hungarian Greta Arn were beaten.