Robby Ginepri is still recovering from a 2010 mountain bike accident that broke his left elbow. The time off following that crash did restore his hunger for tennis.
Ginepri earned just his third ATP Tour match win since that unfortunate crash about 17 months ago, easily beating Xavier Malisse 6-1, 6-2 on Tuesday night in the opening round of the SAP Open.
"I'm more motivated now than I have been for a long time," he said. "I see that tennis isn't such a bad thing after all. It put a lot of things in perspective the nine months I sat. I'm pretty hungry to play."
Ginepri played that way against Malisse, using an effective serve and strong two-handed backhand to win the match in just 56 minutes.
Ginepri was once a rising star in American tennis, winning three titles and making it to No. 15 in the rankings in 2005 when he reached the U.S. Open semifinals. But he has fallen on hard times in recent years, dropping to 235th in the world after the accident. He crashed while traveling 30 mph and trying to avoid a squirrel.
He played just six matches all last season and then had to undergo another operation after the U.S. Open. He lost in qualifying for the Australian Open last month. He played two Challenger tournaments after that, reaching the final in Honolulu.
He still can't completely straighten his left arm but has regained most of the strength he had lost and hopes to make it back into the top 50.
"I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent," he said. "That's the way it goes sometimes. I'm just happy to be playing again, working extremely hard to get back to this level. I'm pleased with how I played tonight and hopefully I can play like this the rest of the week and the rest of the year and take it a step at a time."
Malisse looked out of sorts from the start Tuesday night as he double faulted to get broken in the opening game of the match and then complained about the ball boys. He hit an overhead into the net to get broken again in the fourth game and double faulted on set point.
Ginepri won 15 of the final 16 points, starting with an ace at break point when it was 2-all in the second set. He sealed it when Malisse hit a forehand into the net on match point.
"I'm just happy to play some tennis again and get into a little bit of a rhythm," Ginepri said. "Playing a whole circuit again is going to be nice. Hopefully I can stay healthy for the whole year."
The first full day of action featured a heavy dose of Americans with seven others joining Ginepri to play their first matches of the tournament. Only two of the other Americans advanced to the second round as Denis Kudla beat countryman Jack Sock in a matchup of 19-year-old up-and-comers and Michael Russell beat seventh-seeded Donald Young 6-1, 7-6 (6) in the late match.
Sock beat Kudla in the U.S. Open junior final in three sets in 2010 and twice on clay in Futures events the past two years, but fell 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 in this match.
Sock, who teamed with John McEnroe to win a doubles exhibition on Monday night, had a short stay in the singles draw. He had his serve broken in the opening game of the match for the only break in the first set. Neither player lost serve in the second set before Sock rallied from 5-2 down in the tiebreaker to force a third set.
Sock got up an early break in the third set before losing four straight games, committing two double faults in the crucial sixth game that included seven deuces. Sock lost that game with a double fault to fall behind 4-2 and failed to convert a break opportunity in the seventh game.
Reigning NCAA champion Steve Johnson later lost his first-round match to Steve Darcis of Belgium, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). Johnson, who also lost his three previous ATP Tour matches, battled hard against the more experienced Darcis but fell just short in both tiebreakers.
Johnson, 22, won the NCAA title last year at Southern California and is looking to lead the Trojans to their fourth straight team title in his senior season. He has won 43 straight college matches.
In the first match of the day, American Dennis Lajola lost his ATP Tour debut to fellow qualifier Dimitar Kutrovsky of Bulgaria, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (3). Kutrovsky next plays top-seeded Gael Monfils in the second round on Thursday.
Tim Smyczek, who made it to the quarterfinals here last year, was knocked out in the first round by Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.