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
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.