March 6 (Reuters) - Top seed Rafa Nadal will open his Indian Wells title defence against Radek Stepanek after the Czech overcame a poor second set to beat Denis Istomin 6-1 3-6 6-1 in the first round on Thursday.
Stepanek, ranked 50th in the world, was broken only once and did not double fault but needed nearly two hours to defeat the Uzbek.
Also on Thursday, Lleyton Hewitt notched his 599th career win when he beat fellow Australian Matthew Ebden 7-6(2) 3-6 6-3.
Hewitt will try for his 600th career victory in a second round encounter against South African Kevin Anderson, who has been a losing finalist in his past two ATP events.
The top 32 seeds receive a bye to the second round, with the leading players making their first appearance over the weekend.
Serbian Novak Djokovic is the second seed, while Stanislas Wawrinka, the Australian Open champion from Switzerland, is third seed for the season’s first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament.
On the women’s side, the second round starts on Friday and among those in action will be second seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who hits the court against qualifier Heather Watson of Great Britain.
Third seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will start her campaign against American Lauren Davis.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, who lost last year’s final to Maria Sharapova, will play Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski.
Australian Open champion Li Na is the top women’s seed and meets compatriot Jie Zheng in the second round. Zheng outlasted Paula Ormaechea of Argentina 3-6 6-3 7-6(5) on Thursday. (Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Peter Rutherford)