INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Juan Martin del Potro handled Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-0, in the first round of the BNP Parisbas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Thursday.
Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, was out most of last year with a wrist injury. He has opened this year by winning 14 of 18 matches and his eighth career title, at Delray Beach, Fla.
"I played better than him," Del Potro said after his first win over Stepanek in three tries. "I take all my opportunities, especially in the second set, and was very focused on my serve."
Del Potro said he injured the wrist in his previous match with Stepanek in the fall of 2009. He had surgery in May.
He was out eight months following the surgery and his ranking tumbled from No. 5 in 2009 to No. 257 at the end of 2010. He is No. 90 now, and not sure how close he is to being fully recovered.
"I was out a year, a long time," he said. "Maybe I had my best form today. I can improve my game, everything, my serve and my approaches. I don't know if I can play better or not, but I know the way to improve day by day. It's a long road to be in the top players again. It's very tough to play good tennis after a year out of competition, but I'm trying."
Del Potro will take on 2010 tournament champion Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia in the second round.
Former world No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia got into the second round by beating Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain 6-3, 6-3.
Also through to the second round is American Donald Young, a former junior star. He advanced with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Potito Starace of Italy.
Young, who earned his berth in the main draw by qualifying, will face No. 5 Andy Murray of Great Britain in the second round.
"I'm excited," Young said. "I'm happy to get into the next round and see how it goes. It's been and up and down year, but I'm pretty excited the way things are going. When you earn your way in (to a tournament) it makes you feel good about yourself."
Young's win set a tone for the Americans.
Qualifier Ryan Sweeting was a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Marcel Granollers of Spain and Tim Smyczek, another qualifier, beat Illya Marchenko of the Ukraine 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, Victor Hanescu of Romania, Micheal Berrer of Germany, Somdev Devvarman of India, Rainer Schuettler of Germany, Xavier Malisse of Belgium, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, Mischa Zvervev of Germany, Richard Barankis of Lithuania and Rik De Voest of South Africa also advanced.
American wild card Christina McHale beat Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan 6-3, 6-1; Elena Baltacha of Great Britain was a 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 winner over Roberta Vinci of Italy and Urszula Radwanska of Poland toppled Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6).
Others moving into the second round: Sloane Stephens of the U.S., Simona Halep of Romania, Shuai Peng of China, Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic, Agnes Szavay of Hungary, Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, Sofia Arviidsson of Sweden, Laura Pous-Tio of Spain, Shaui Zhang of China, Anna Chakvetadze of Russia and Iveta Benasova of the Czech Republic.