In his first match since returning from a four-month ban following a failed doping test, Marin Cilic beat Dutch qualifier Igor Sijsling 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 Monday to reach the second round of the Paris Masters.
The Croatian served 21 aces and hit 42 winners against Sijsling, who double-faulted to give Cilic a 4-3 lead in the deciding set.
"All the players, they know me and they were really happy to see me and they were really happy that this is over for me," Cilic said.
"Everybody knows it was like honest mistakes, and it can happen to really anyone. I’m of course definitely against doping, against the players who are cheating, and I would say that there should be some more seminars for the players to be more aware about these things that can happen."
Cilic tested positive for a banned stimulant in May, but claimed he ingested it inadvertently through a glucose tablet bought at a pharmacy.
The International Tennis Federation found traces of nikethamide in Cilic’s urine sample from a tournament in Munich, where he lost in the second round to fellow Croatian Ivan Dodig.
Nikethamide is prohibited in competition, but can be used out of competition. Cilic said he had taken the tablets five days before his match.
When notified in June by the ITF of the positive test, Cilic accepted a provisional suspension and withdrew from a second-round match at Wimbledon, citing a knee injury.
Cilic reached a career-high No. 9 ranking in February 2010. His ranking has dropped to 41st from 12th at Wimbledon.
In September, the ITF hit Cilic with a nine-month ban back-dated to May 1.
"I would definitely say it was the worst time of my life to experience this as a player," Cilic said. "It was extremely difficult situations where people were even calling me a doping player and a cheater."
The governing body’s anti-doping tribunal later said Cilic hid behind the excuse of a knee injury to withdraw from his second-round match against Kenny de Schepper at Wimbledon and avoid negative publicity after failing a doping test.
"My lawyers were put under pressure at that time and told me I have to pull out," Cilic said on Monday.
Cilic challenged his suspension at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and sought to prove he was not a cheat while the ITF appealed the verdict of its own independent tribunal and requested a two-year ban.
Last Friday, the court reduced Cilic’s suspension from nine to four months, allowing him to compete at the Paris Masters.
"I just don’t know who I have to believe anymore. I feel like everybody lies, even the institutions," Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said Monday. "I feel like even those who are testing us don’t always say the truth."
Also Monday, Kei Nishikori of Japan and Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco won their first-round matches.
Nishikori saved all four break points he faced in his 6-4, 6-2 win over Julien Benneteau of France.
Lopez outlasted Bernard Tomic of Australia 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (1). Lopez failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, but clinched the match in the third when he won the last six points of the tiebreaker.
Verdasco edged Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) despite blowing a 3-0 lead in the second set and converting only one of 11 break points.
Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, and qualifiers Robin Haase, Santiago Giraldo and Pierre-Hugues Herbert also advanced.
Kohlschreiber beat Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, Rosol beat Jeremy Chardy of France 6-3, 6-4, Haase of the Netherlands defeated Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6 (8), 6-3, Giraldo of Colombia had a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over French wild-card entry Adrian Mannarino and Herbert cruised past fellow Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-2.