Serena Williams rallies to see off Victoria Azarenka at French Open

Serena Williams celebrates a point in her match against Victoria Azarenka at the French OpenThere were 17 American women in the French Open draw at the start of the week. At the end of play on Monday – if rain does not sluice through the entertainment – there will be one and her name is likely to be Serena Williams, despite trailing by a set and being 3-1 down in the second.

The World No 1, by turn moody, tearful and seemingly ill as she wiped her eyes and spluttered into her towel between games for most of the two hours and two minutes this dramatic fight lasted on Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday evening, somehow found a way to grind down Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and book a place in the fourth round against her compatriot Sloane Stephens.

There were many high points and a couple of explosive moments in the last match of the day – none edgier than on set point in the second set when Azarenka complained bitterly about a call against her drive to the baseline. The ball was in and Azarenka rightly enough wanted the point awarded rather than replayed. The umpire’s judgment in the American’s favour did little for the Belarusian’s equanimity and Williams struck.

The owner of 19 major titles was not in front until she held for 3-2 in the deciding set, a launching pad for one of her most enthralling comebacks.

She may have known that, when Azarenka had won the first set in majors over the past five years, her record was 63-0; the last player to beat her was Williams – five years ago at the Australian Open. When Azarenka overcooked a forehand, the ball whizzed on the full to within inches of Williams’s dress – and she let out a war‑cry-level screech to go 4-2 up.

Azarenka should have been docked a point for belting a ball into the crowd at the start of the seventh game and her world was caving in fast. She served to stay in the tournament at 2-5 but Williams would not be stopped. She finished with a majestic cross‑court forehand. What a player she is.

On Court Suzanne Lenglen earlier, in a match conducted largely from the baseline, Stephens played some outstanding tennis to beat the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4, 6-1 in 75 minutes.

In the same quarter the 17th seed, Sara Errani, scored a minor upset by eliminating the No10, Andrea Petkovic, 6-3, 6-3 in an hour and 20 minutes. The Italian plays the unseeded German Julia Görges, who was similarly ruthless, and in a minute less, dispatching the American Irina Falconi 6-4, 6-1.

Petra Kvitova is hitting a rhythm in the bottom quarter of that half of the draw and took just under an hour to beat the 30th seed, Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, for the loss of just five games. The Czech next plays Timea Bacsinszky, seeded 23, who beat the American Madison Keys, 6-4, 6-2.

The Romanian Andreea Mitu had to fight hard to put out the Italian veteran and former champion Francesca Schiavone 7-5, 6-4, while the last French hope, Kristina Mladenovic, could take only five games off Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.

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