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NEW YORK (Reuters) - David Nalbandian has beaten better credentialed opponents and won bigger matches but rarely has he felt as satisfied as he did after a first round win over South African qualifier Rik De Voest at the U.S. Open on Tuesday.
His grinding 7-6 3-6 6-4 6-7 6-4 victory was not his best performance but the nearly four-hour match was a remarkable demonstration of resilience after 18 months on the sick list.
The Argentine baseliner missed the last seven grand slams after undergoing hip surgery last year then suffered a series of unrelated injuries that stalled his comeback.
Despite his problems, he was picked for Argentina's Davis Cup team in July and went on to win the decisive fifth rubber in their quarter-final against Russia.
A month later, he won an ATP Tour event in August and set his sights on the U.S. Masters, where he was seeded 31st and drawn to play De Voest on one of the outside courts.
If he was hoping for an easy return to grand slam tennis, he was disappointed. He match on Tuesday lasted one minute shy of four hours but the result was proof of his will to win.
"It was good," he told Reuters. "I didn't play last year because of the injury ... I'm just so happy to be here, I just try to be do my best all the time."
Nalbandian has made the semi-finals at all four majors and was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2002 but has never won a grand slam title and has modest expectations at Flushing Meadows.
"(Physically) I feel good so far," he said. "But, first of all, I just want to enjoy every match I play."
Editing by Frank Pingue