French Open runner-up Robin Soderling survived a second-set fightback from Juan Ignacio Chela to defeat the Argentine 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Barcelona Open on Tuesday.
The powerful Swede, the highest-ranked player left in the tournament after a slew of withdrawals, stopped Chela from serving out the second set before closing out victory with a fourth service break.
World number three Rafael Nadal has won the Conde de Godo trophy in Barcelona for the past five years but pulled out on Monday after winning a record sixth consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Masters.
The Spanish claycourt master does not want a repeat of the knee problems that plagued him over the past year and which he blames on the punishing European clay swing.
"I have had a little over a year with many problems and although I feel very good right now I am determined to make sure as far as possible it won't be repeated," the 23-year-old said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Soderling, who stunned four-times champion Nadal at Roland Garros last year before losing to Roger Federer in the final, will play Spain's Feliciano Lopez or Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan for a place in the Barcelona quarter-finals.
Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt, continuing his comeback from hip surgery, dropped the second set to Turkish qualifier Marsel Ilhan before coming through 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to set up a second-round clash with Eduardo Schwank.
Spaniard Tommy Robredo's bid for a second Barcelona title ended when he was forced to abandon his first-round match against Italy's Simone Bolelli in the third set with a back problem.
Top 10 pair Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco, who lost to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final, are in second-round action on Wednesday.