Roger Federer advanced to the third round of the Madrid Masters on Wednesday with a 6-3, 7-6 win over Czech Radek Stepanek on his return from a three-week break.
Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic survived a searching test to beat Romanian Victor Hanescu, while Russia's Nikolay Davydenko, seeded five, was sent packing by American qualifier Robby Ginepri.
Initially Federer had no such concerns, romping to a 3-0 lead as Stepanek's serve fell apart.
But the world number 30 stepped up in the second set -- winning all but one of the points on his first serve -- and seized the advantage in the set decider with a sensational drop shot, before pumping his first wildly in celebration.
Two points later he had even greater impetus as he took a 5-3 lead but could not hold on as Federer applied the pressure to take the tie break 8-6 and win 6-3, 7-6 in one hour and 26 minutes.
"I think I moved with a spring in my step. My feeling out there was positive and confident which is a good feeling to have in the first match which tends to be very tricky," Federer said.
Davydenko's 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat was a major blow as the Russian is chasing one of the four remaining places in next month's eight-man Masters Cup in Shanghai and it came hot on the heels of his quarter-final exit from last week's Kremlin Cup.
Ginepri next meets Frenchman Gilles Simon, who put out 11th seed James Blake on Tuesday.
In the day's other upset, Spanish sixth seed David Ferrer was dumped out 6-4 7-6 by countryman Feliciano Lopez, ranked 35 places below him.
OUT OF SORTS
An out-of-sorts Djokovic set up a third round tie against towering Croatian Ivo Karlovic but was pushed hard by Hanescu before the world number 73 was forced to retire with a groin strain when the match was poised at 6-7, 7-6, 3-1.
After the world number three sacrificed the first set tie break with a sloppy error and narrowly clinched the second tie break to level, both players held their opening service games in the decider before Hanescu retired two games later.
Fresh from his victory at the Stockholm Open, defending champion David Nalbandian overcame a mid-match wobble to beat Czech Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-7, 6-1,
The Argentine will next play Davis Cup team mate Juan Martin del Potro, who went through after Finn Jarkko Nieminen retired during their second set.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 16th seed, scraped through, winning a third-set tiebreak to beat the impressive Marcel Granollers 3-6, 6-3, 7-6.
Off the court, top seed Rafael Nadal said he was withdrawing from the doubles event though he remains in the main draw and plays France's Richard Gasquet on Thursday.