By Philip James
Gianluca Naso (8) 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 James Ward
Vincent Millot 5-7 6-4 7-5 Jamie Baker
Londoner Ward, playing at the XVIII Challenger ATP De Salinas Clay tournament in Ecuador, lost to eighth seed and world number 199 Gianluca Naso 6-4 6-7 6-3.
In an epic encounter lasting two hours and 40 minutes, 26-year-old Ward battled back from losing the first set to take the second in a tie-break.
In the first two sets Ward could not make any inroads into the Italian’s serve, engineering just one break point whilst facing five himself.
Ward, ranked 207th, stepped up his return game in the third set but was left ruing missed opportunities as six break points came and went while Naso created just one, which he took to win the match.
It was Ward’s first match since losing in the final of the West Lakes Challenger in Adelaide on 10th February.
Meanwhile Baker, ranked just one place below Ward, also lost in three sets, to 265th-ranked Vincent Millot at the Challenger La Manche hard court tournament in Cherbourg, France.
In contrast to Ward’s match, Millot and Baker, traded 13 breaks in total as the Frenchman rebounded from losing the first set to win in two hours and 25 minutes.
Baker, 26 from Glasgow, won three matches to qualify for the Australian Open in January but otherwise has not won a tour match this season.