INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka won their opening matches Saturday in the BNP Paribas Open.
Federer, the four-time champion seeded seventh, beat French qualifier Paul-Henri Mathieu. The Swiss star was coming off his 78th career title last week in Dubai.
“It’s important to win,” he said. “It’s a lot different from Dubai. You have to force a bit more, but I’m satisfied.”
World No. 1 and defending champion Nadal held off determined Radek Stepanek 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 to reach the third round.
Nadal, who had won all six of his prior encounters with the talented Czech, appeared to have gained control of this one when he won the second set with a single service break and broke again to open the third set.
But Stepanek immediately broke back, and Nadal had to save three break points in the sixth game to stay on terms before finally gaining the decisive break in the 11th game and serving out the victory after 2 hours and 24 minutes.
Stepanek, a former top-10 player now ranked 50th, fired 12 aces in the match, while Nadal overcame eight double faults with just two aces.
Nadal next faces Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov, a 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 winner over American Tim Smyczek.
The fifth-seeded Murray topped Lukas Rosol 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, and the third-seeded Wawrinka, playing for the first time since winning the Australian Open, beat Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 7-5.
Murray reached the final in 2009, but has mostly struggled in the event.
“I think it’s important sometimes to think about it, because when you’re not expecting it to happen and then it does, that’s when it can kind of take you by surprise and you might panic a little bit or worry,” Murray said. “But I don’t feel like (that happened) today. I was a set and a break down. I got broken three times in a row the end of the first set, beginning of the second. I just kind of kept going and found a way to win, which is always the most important thing.”
Kei Nishikori made a winning start with a straight-sets victory over Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo.
The 19th-seeded Nishikori beat the 71st-ranked Giraldo 6-1, 6-3 to improve to 5-1 in his career over the Colombian. Nishikori, who had a first-round bye, got off to a strong start and broke his opponent twice in each set to make an easy day of it.
“I was in good form today. My service game was never in danger, and I was able to attack,” said Nishikori, who injured his groin in February.
“I didn’t feel any pain at all today. This was proof that I’m fit to play.”
In the third round, Nishikori will face 11th-seeded Tommy Haas of Germany, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over France’s Jeremy Chardy.
Mikhail Youzhny, seeded 14th, withdrew because of a back injury and the American men’s contingent was trimmed from its initial 14 members to one after losses by Michael Russell, Sam Querrey, Smyczek and Ryan Harrison. The only U.S. player remaining is 12th seed John Isner, who will face Nikolay Davydenko on Sunday.
In women’s play, top-seeded Li Na beat Chinese compatriot Zheng Jie 6-1, 7-5.
Maria Sharapova made a strong start to her title defense with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Julia Goerges.
Sharapova, seeded fourth, needed just 66 minutes to get past the unseeded German on the Stadium Court.
Although she had seven double faults, she didn’t face a break point as she advanced her bid to add a third title in the California desert to go with those she won last year and in 2006.
The former world No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion’s 2013 campaign was cut short in August by a shoulder injury that ruled her out of the U.S. Open.
Currently ranked fifth in the world, Sharapova is playing her fourth tournament of the year but has yet to reach a final. She took a break from tennis in February to attend the Sochi Winter Olympics, where she was a torchbearer and worked for broadcaster NBC.
“The first matches are always a little bit tricky, especially having not played in a few weeks indoor or outdoor,” she said. “Tricky opponent, and she’s capable of playing good tennis. She hasn’t been as consistent as she probably would have liked recently, but she’s had her results.”
“I thought I did what I had to do,” Sharapova added.
Sharapova next faces Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi, a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 winner over 25th-seeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
Fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber dropped out, falling 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 to Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor. Aleksandra Wozniack also beat No. 15 Sabine Lisicki 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5).