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French Open: Scary for Serena and Kvitova, but both survive

Paris: Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova survived big scares at the French Open on Thursday, both needing to come back from a set down to reach the third round.

Serena Williams. Pic/AFP
Serena Williams. Pic/AFP 

Williams, 19 times a Grand Slam winner, survived an almighty fright before finally seeing off the challenge of world number 105 Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany. The 33-year-old, top-seeded American dropped the first set and faced break points against her unheralded 21-year-old opponent in the second, but she rallied just in time to go through 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. It had not been her best tennis, she agreed.

"A win is a win, and as long as you live to survive the next day, you can always improve. I know my level is literally a hundred times better than I played today, so I think I take more solace in the fact I can play better as opposed to the fact that that's the best I could play. Then I would be in trouble," Williams said. She will next face two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus who eased past Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-3. Azarenka, who has given Williams trouble in the past, is back in business after losing much of last year to a bout of depression and injuries.

"I know what she's gonna do. It's a matter for me to really focus on my game and really try to be in control because that's what she loves to do. She likes to take control. She likes to be aggressive," Azarenka said of her upcoming clash with the top seed. Azarenka had three match points against Williams in Madrid earlier this month but lost in three sets. In a day marked by cold, blustery conditions, fourth seed Kvitova made it through to the last 32 with a 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-2 win over Spain's Silvia Soler-Espinosa.

But it was another nervy showing from the Wimbledon champion who was taken to the limit in her opening match against New Zealander Marina Erakovic. The Czech Fed Cup winner, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2012, dropped serve twice in the opening set before the more consistent Soler-Espinosa took the tie-break 7/4. Kvitova was hanging on early in the second set, but finally started to find her range with her groundstrokes and broke to take a 4-3 lead. That was short-lived, however, as Soler-Espinosa battled back onto level terms in the next game, but Kvitova took the next two to level the set scores.

The fourth seed took command early on in the deciding set and back-to-back breaks saw her safely past the post and into the third round. "It was a tough match again. Second round of a Grand Slam is always difficult," she said. Kvitova will go up against Irina-Camelia Begu for a place in the last 16, the Romanian 30th seed defeating Ana Konjuh of Croatia. At one stage on the tournament's fifth day it looked like five out of the top 10 seeds could have departed the stage by the end of the day, third seed Simona Halep and sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard already having lost.

But as it turned out, only fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki was packing her bags for home after the Dane lost 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) to an impressive Julia Goerges of Germany. Like Kvitova, German 10th seed Andrea Petkovic had stared defeat in the face only to bounce back from for a 4-6, 6-4 6-4 win over Lourdes Domínguez Lino of Spain. Meanwhile, Sara Errani, who lost to Maria Sharapova in the 2012 final, also had to claw her way back from being down to defeat German youngster Carina Witthoeft 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. There were slow-burning fireworks out on Court One where Svetlana Kuznetsova outlasted Francesca Schiavone in what turned out to be the third longest women's singles match to have been played in the history of the French Open.

It took them 3 hours 50 minutes before Schiavone staggered past the winning post and into the third round 6-7 (11/13), 7-5, 10-8, but even that was no match going up against the epic they played at the 2011 Australian Open. Schiavone also won on that occasion 16-14 in the deciding set after 4 hrs 44mins -- the longest match to date in women's Grand Slam history. Another seed to fall was No.12 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who lost to Andreea Mitu of Romania, but American Sloane Stephens showed again she is returning to something like her best form by ousting Britain's only representative in the main draw, Heather Watson, 6-2, 6-4 in just 70 minutes.

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