Holder Gustavo Kuerten battled for almost three hours before beating Spain's Alex Corretja 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 in the first round of the Auckland Open on Tuesday.
The Brazilian, who was given support by the home crowd, overcame the world-ranked number 100 in 2 hours 49 minutes.
"They [the fans] stayed behind me and gave me the hope to hang in there and keep myself in the match. So I would say it was an effort from me and them together and it was really important to have them there."
Kuerten beat Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty in last year's final, and the Slovakian made it through to the second round with an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over New Zealander Mark Nielsen.
But eighth-seeded Finn Jarkko Nieminen was upset 6-1, 6-4 by Fabrice Santoro of France in little over an hour.