SYDNEY (AFP) - Juan Martin del Potro savoured the thrill of being on the tennis court again at the Sydney International on Tuesday, by winning his first match in 10 months since wrist surgery.
The giant Argentinian, who is defending his Sydney title on a wild card after his ranking sank to 338 owing to his inactivity, had a 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) win over Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky.
It set up the 2009 US Open champion and one-time world No. 4 with a second-round encounter with Italian top seed Fabio Fognini.
Just to be playing again was a triumph for the 26-year-old after going under the knife last March on his left wrist, which forced him off the tour.
"It was a great moment for me. I think I played well to be in my first match after 10 months," he said.
"I served well. My forehand is still working out. So that's a good sign for the future.
"I need to work very hard to my backhands and my movements, but I think now is time to think about my comeback and enjoy this moment a lot," he added.
"I have been at home for a long time, really sad. To be honest, I didn't expect this moment to be early in the season. I'm so happy, so glad."
Del Potro's playing career has been sidetracked by wrist problems since he beat Roger Federer in the final at Flushing Meadows more than five years ago, and he is taking his comeback slowly.
"I have to go very slowly, tournament by tournament. But if I play like 15, 20 tournaments that will be a great season for me," he said.
"Just staying healthy for all the season will be great for me. I'm making a schedule, but a shorter one."
Del Potro, who still needs one hour of treatment before and after each match, said it had been "horrible" sitting at home in Buenos Aires watching tennis on television.
"I think for all the players watching the big tournaments on TV is really bad," he said.
"I'm supposed to be there playing with these guys, looking at trying to win a grand slam again. But I was at home trying to fix my wrist."
After breaking Stakhovsky in the third game of the match, del Potro barely dropped a point on serve before taking the opening set in 31 minutes.
He was again untroubled on serve in the second set, but needed a tie-breaker to clinch victory after one hour and 21 minutes.