Serena Williams survived a second-set fightback from fourth seed Victoria Azarenka to reach the fourth round of the US Open with a 6-1 7-6 (7-5) victory.


Having been thoroughly outplayed in the opening set, Azarenka looked down and out when she faced three match points serving 3-5 down in the second, but she dug deep, saved them all and then a fourth before breaking Williams and forcing a tie-break. There was to be no glorious comeback, though, as the title favourite kept her hopes of a fourth US Open title very much alive. This had been billed as the match of the third round, with Williams ranked below her real level after missing almost a year with injury and health problems. She had looked in supreme form in her first two matches, dropping only three games, and the early signs were ominous in the extreme for Azarenka. The fourth seed was broken in her first service game when Williams powered away a backhand winner, and she promptly smashed down two aces to make it three games in a row. The 29-year-old has clearly worked hard on her fitness since losing in the fourth round of Wimbledon to Marion Bartoli and there was simply no way through for Azarenka. Williams broke again for 4-0 and a love set loomed but Azarenka battled hard to come back from 0-30 and at least get on the board in the first set. The Belarusian even created a break point with her opponent serving for the set and hit a brilliant backhand return only for Williams to crunch a forehand winner.

The 28th seed had her game face on and Azarenka had to save more break points at the start of the second set, but coming through that test seemed to help her confidence. Suddenly Williams was under pressure on her serve but she is the strongest player mentally as well as physically and she let out a huge roar as a forehand flew past Azarenka to tie up the set at 3-3. Williams then broke through in the very next game but Azarenka was not finished yet and she fought back from 0-40 on her serve at 3-5 before saving a fourth match point on the American’s serve in the next game. What had looked a foregone conclusion became less so when the fourth seed created a break point. That disappeared in the flash of an ace but Williams could not save a second and it was back to 5-5. It really was a gutsy effort from Azarenka and she competed toe to toe with Williams right through the tie-break before pulling a forehand just wide trying to save a fifth match point.


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