INDIAN WELLS, California // It was not the most straightforward of days for either Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray, as the top two seeds laboured their way to the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday.
Murray had to dig himself out of a hole before beating Russian Evgeny Donskoy 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 in the second round.
Murray, the US Open champion, showing signs of rust in his first tournament on the ATP circuit for six weeks, lost a wildly fluctuating opening set, where he trailed 1-5 at one point, before seizing control of the match.
In blazing desert sunshine at Indian Wells, the 25-year-old Scotsman broke Donskoy's serve twice in the second set and also in the third before sealing victory after two hours 17 minutes when his opponent sent a backhand service return long.
"I've struggled here the past couple of years, I haven't won a match," Murray, who had not played competitively since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final, said courtside.
"I was a little bit nervous in the beginning and he started very, very well ... he came up with some unbelievable shots. I just tried to hang in there and was hitting the ball much better by the second set."
World No 3 Murray, a runner-up at Indian Wells in 2009 and a losing quarter-finalist in 2010, said he had initially struggled against the 83rd-ranked Russian's style of play.
"I never saw him play before, so you don't know the patterns particularly well," he added. "He's pretty smart on the court, too. He doesn't kind of go for shots that aren't on and doesn't make many mistakes.
"And I have not played a match for six weeks, so you can't expect to play your best tennis straightaway. He played some really good stuff in the first set. Once I got into more of a rhythm I was able to dictate more of the points."
The 22-year-old Donskoy was playing against a top-10 opponent for only the second time in his career. He lost to 10th-ranked fellow Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the second round at St. Petersburg in 2010.
Murray could not fully explain why he had struggled at the California desert venue over the previous two years, on both occasions being eliminated in his first match, and again on Sunday.
"I don't know exactly," he said. "I felt good before the match today, and I felt good before my match last year, as well.
"This year, I started slow and I was probably nervous because, even though I had been practicing well, having it in the back of your head that you played poorly the last couple of years and struggled, that's always going to be a thought."
Murray will next face Taiwan's Lu Yen-Hsun, who battled past Slovakia's Martin Klizan 7-6, 7-6 earlier in the day.
Djokovic, too, passed a tough first test, booking a third-round berth with a 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Italy's Fabio Fognini.
The world No 1 improved to 14-0 in 2013, an unbeaten run that has included a fourth Australian Open title and a victory in Dubai. However, his victory over 36th-ranked Fognini was far from the routine win the quick first set promised. The Italian saved a match point in the 10th game of the second set, then broke Djokovic a second time to force the third frame.
Djokovic next faces either 31st seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria or Australian qualifier Matthew Ebden.
In other matches, American Mardy Fish made a triumphant return to the ATP Tour after being sidelined since last year's US Open because of a heart condition, battling past compatriot Bobby Reynolds 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
Croatia's Marin Cilic overcame Spaniard Albert Ramos 7-6, 6-2, Germany's Bjoern Phau scraped past Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-2 2-6 6-4 and Australian Marinko Matosevic brushed aside Argentina's Juan Monaco 7-5, 6-0.
In the women's category, former champion Maria Sharapova survived a tough battle with Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro, winning 7-5 6-3 to book her place in the fourth round.
The Russian world No 3, seeded second at the elite WTA event, broke the Spaniard twice in a closely contested first set that featured several lengthy baseline rallies and lasted almost an hour.
Sharapova then broke the Spaniard's serve twice more in the second set, sealing victory in one hour 40 minutes when her 21st-ranked opponent hit a forehand long.
"I faced a pretty tough opponent," Sharapova said courtside on a sunny afternoon at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. "I certainly had some trouble today."
The statuesque Russian, champion here in 2006, will next face either Italy's Roberta Vinci or Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino.
Earlier in the day, sixth-seeded Italian Sara Errani had to work a little harder than the scoreline reflected as she beat Sweden's Johanna Larsson 6-3 6-1 in the third round.
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