Isner advances in first round at Rome

ROME -- John Isner celebrated his 25th birthday by rallying past Horacio Zeballos 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 Monday in the opening round of the Rome Masters.

Isner, the top American in the draw after Andy Roddick's withdrawal, had 20 aces and faced only one break point -- which he lost.

The 6-foot-9 Isner earned his first win on clay this season. The turning point came when a drop shot attempt from Zeballos hit the net to hand Isner his first break of the match and a 6-5 lead in the third set.

The American managed to shake off some nerves and finish off the Argentinean on his third match point.

Colombian qualifier Santiago Giraldo used a series of winners to upset former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-0, 6-3. The 76th-ranked Giraldo hit 32 winners to Ferrero's nine, and required only 17 minutes to win the opening set.

The 12th-seeded Ferrero won the Rome tournament in 2001 and entered with an 18-3 record on clay this season. But Giraldo came in on a run of his own, having beaten tour veterans Nicolas Lapentti and Jarkko Nieminen in qualifying.

Ernests Gulbis of Latvia cruised past Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-2, 6-2 and will face top-ranked Roger Federer.

In other matches, Italian wild card Paolo Lorenzi rallied to beat Albert Montanes 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, and Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany eliminated Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay 6-7 (1), 6-1, 6-4.

The top eight seeded players have first-round byes in singles.

Later on Monday, Federer opened his clay-court season with a rare doubles victory.

The top-ranked singles player paired with Swiss Davis Cup teammate Yves Allegro to beat Johan Brunstrom of Sweden and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands Antilles 6-4, 7-6 (4) on Monday.

Federer never dropped serve and showed off effective volleying skills in his first match inside the new 10,500-seat stadium at the Foro Italico.

Federer and Allegro will face sixth-seeded Simon Aspelin of Sweden and Paul Hanley of Australia.

Federer isn't a stranger to doubles. He won gold in doubles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.