PARIS: Serena Williams battled back from a set down for the second straight match to defeat Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and reach the last 16 of the French Open on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
The 33-year-old American was staring defeat in the face at a set and 2-4 down in the second before finding her range in the nick of time.
She was also a break down early in the deciding set, but by that time she had found her range and she duly won six games in a row to clinch the win.
Williams will next play fellow American Sloane Stephens for a place in the quarter-finals as she continues her search of a 20th Grand Slam title.
Stephens made it through with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Tsvetlana Pironkova of Bulgaria, reaching the last 16 at Roland Garros for the fourth straight year.
“Today it was not easy, Victoria played very well and I was struggling,” said the two-time champion Williams.
“She won the first set and I just said to myself ‘allez, allez Serena, come-on.’”
Azarenka was quickest out of the blocks in a late-starting match, taking the opening two games before Williams levelled at 2-2. Azarenka then won four of the next five games to take the set 6-3.
Williams was struggling with her usually mighty serve and she was broken again in the third game of the second set as Azarenka grew in confidence to take a 3-1 lead.
The American had a break point to get back level at 3-3 but three unforced errors in a row saw her 4-2 down instead.
Two games later she had another shot at taking the Azarenka serve and this time she made no mistake on her second break point with the Belarusian hitting long under pressure.
That proved to be the turning point of the match with Williams clearly in the ascendancy suddenly opening up with all the power she has at her disposal.
She levelled the set scores after a disputed line call that had the two players trading barbs and staring daggers at each other over the net.
Williams fell behind 0-2 at the start of the deciding set, but turned on the power as Azarenka wilted to win the last six games of the tie.
Williams and Stephens kept the American flag flying at Roland Garros after earlier defeats for Madison Keys and Irina Falconi.
Keys went down 6-4, 6-2 to Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, while Falconi fell 6-4, 6-1 to Julia Goerges of Germany.