(Reuters) – Winning ugly was fine by fifth-seeded Latvian Ernests Gulbis in a triumphant return to the ATP Tour at the LA Open on Monday.
The 21-year-old, sidelined since May by a hamstring injury he suffered at the French Open, battled past Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko 7-5 7-5 in the opening round at the LA Tennis Center.
“I didn’t care how I played,” Gulbis told reporters after firing down 11 aces on the hardcourt surface. “It was a tough win because I didn’t feel the ball really well.
“I just wanted to win, whatever the score, ugly tennis or whatever, to get some wins going. Whatever it takes — you push, you run, you fight.”
Gulbis, who won his first ATP World Tour title at Delray Beach in February, broke Lacko’s serve three times to seal victory in one hour and 41 minutes.
The Latvian, the youngest player in the draw, will next face either Colombian Alejandro Falla or Slovakia’s Karol Beck.
Germany’s Rainer Schuettler advanced when seventh seed Horacio Zeballos of Argentina retired because of an injured left shoulder when trailing 6-3 3-0.
“I’m a little sad because I know this is a really important tournament,” Zeballos said. “I’m just going to try and think about the next tournament and be focused for that.”
In other matches, sixth-seeded Serbian Janko Tipsarevic crushed Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo 6-1 6-0 and Israel’s Dudi Sela won a see-sawing encounter with Belgian Xavier Malisse 6-1 4-6 6-3.
British world number four Andy Murray is the top seed for this week’s $619,500 event with defending champion Sam Querrey of the U.S. seeded second, Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis third and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez fourth.
The top four seeds all get byes into the second round.