Held together by sticky tape and a fierce will to win, top seed Monica Seles grunted and grimaced her way to a 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 victory over Ai Sugiyama at the Pan Pacific Open on Wednesday.
The former world number one, who sprained her left ankle during her second-round defeat to little-known Czech Klara Koukalova at the Australian Open, squandered four match-points with Sugiyama serving at 4-5 in the second set.
But Seles, her movement clearly restricted after her Melbourne mishap, dipped into her vast reserves of experience in the final set and broke twice before sealing victory on her sixth match point when Sugiyama swatted a forehand return wide.
"Every once in a while I feel pain and obviously I'm not as ready as I would have wanted," said the 29-year-old Seles, a winner of nine Grand Slam singles titles.
"It's been a tough two weeks after the Australian Open. After not practising much, I was not that comfortable with my game. I just tried to hang in and fight for every point."
After receiving a bye in the first round, the Croatian-born American next plays the winner of the all-Russian clash between Lina Krasnoroutskaya and Elena Bovina, who beat Israeli seventh seed Anna Pistolesi 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Organisers of the $1.3 million event are hoping that Seles does not suffer any relapse this week after Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati and Anna Kournikova all pulled out with injuries before the start of the tournament.
Meanwhile, fourth seed Chanda Rubin opened with a 6-4, 6-0 drubbing of Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik in her first match in Tokyo since 2000.
Former champion Iva Majoli, a first-round loser in Melbourne, quickly got her game back on track with a convincing 6-3, 6-3 victory over American Alexandra Stevenson, who never looked comfortable on the fast indoor carpet.
The Croatian, who won here in 1996, the year before she captured the French Open title, will play third seed Lindsay Davenport in the second round on Thursday.
The American, chasing a third Pan Pacific crown, also received a bye in the first round.
In other matches, fifth-seeded Bulgarian Magdalena Maleeva eased past Japanese wildcard Saori Obata 6-3, 6-3 to set up a second-round clash with doubles specialist Lisa Raymond, who struggled to beat Argentine Paola Suarez 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
"I felt like I was moving well. I felt like I played better than her when it mattered most," said Maleeva.
"I will be fresher than Lisa in the next match, so I feel pretty confident."
Earlier, Indonesian Angelique Widjaja defeated wildcard Jeon Mi-ra of South Korea 6-3, 6-3 in an all-Asian clash.