ESTORIL, Portugal, April 28 – Robin Soderling struggled to a patchy if encouraging victory Wednesday to open play at the Estoril Open as Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made a miserable debut at the clay court event.
Top seed Soderling was looking on the bright side after coasting in the first and last sets but fighting for his life in the second to emerge with a 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-1 defeat of France’s Jeremy Chardy.
Tsonga, like Soderling playing his first career match at the Estadio Nacionale, was much less successful as he went down quietly to Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay 6-2, 7-6 (7/0).
The third seed had little to offer after the loss, his second from three played on clay this spring.
"It was perfect conditions, but my opponent played well and I didn’t," said the former Australian Open finalist.
"There was nothing special in the match or in my game today.
"I have nothing to regret, my goal is still to win grand slams and big tournaments. I guess I must think of this as practise. I will still work hard and seriously with Madrid (Masters 1000) coming up."
Tsonga, ranked 18th, has reached the quarter-finals or better three times already this year on hardcourt – and he won a round in Monte
A third French player lost as Brazilian sixth seed Thomaz Bellucci defeated Eduard Roger-Vasselin 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Top seed Soderling needed almost two hours to go past Chardy, ranked 53rd, who put up a huge struggle at the midway point of the second-round contest.
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.
"I’m not disappointed because I won in the end," said the finalist at the last two Roland Garros editions.
"It doesn’t matter how you play if you win."
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 quarterfinal against either eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro or Colombian Alejandro Falla.
"I’m pleased with how I played in the third set, I was really aggressive, much better than in the first and second sets. In the second, I’m sorry I didn’t take the lead form a break in the first game.
"But the win is good for confidence. I’m working to focus on how I play."
That attitude may be useful as the Swede Friday takes on eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro after the Argentine continued his successful return to the surface after nearly two years, crushing Colombian Alejandro Fala, 6-2, 6-1 in 70 minutes without facing a break point.
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.
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.