- French Open, Day Two
Azarenka performs the great escape in Paris
Victoria Azarenka battled back from the brink of a first-round exit as she avoided an upset in her French Open match against world No. 105 Alberta Brianti.
Staring defeat in the face at 6-7(6) 0-4, Azarenka looked set to be the first major casualty at Roland Garros, but she rallied to claim a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-2 victory.
The world No. 1, who is bidding to win back-to-back grand slam titles after her Australian Open triumph earlier in the year, hit 60 unforced errors in an erratic display, but showed impressive strength of character to grind out a result.
The Belarusian threatened to run away with the match when she broke Brianti's opening service game before holding serve to love, but a misjudged leave from Azarenka saw the Italian claw her way back into the opening set.
A series of unforced errors from Azarenka gifted Brianti a 4-2 lead, but when the top seed levelled to force a tiebreak, it looked like she had recovered after a brief wobble. That was not to be the case though as, with part-time coach Amelie Mauresmo looking on from the stands, Azarenka saved three set points only to see Brianti clinch it at the fourth time of asking.
Azarenka, who often attracted criticism for her mental fragility before her victory in Melbourne earlier this year, looked well beaten as Brianti raced to a 4-0 lead - largely thanks to her misfiring opponent. But a second-serve ace appeared to revive her fortunes, and she racked up six games in quick succession to force a deciding set.
Brianti checked Azarenka's assault by breaking the top seed early in the third set, but there was no stopping a determined Azarenka, who finally closed out victory in two hours and 16 minutes. Next up is German qualifier Dinah Pfizenmaier, who defeated local favourite Caroline Garcia on Sunday.
Following Azarenka onto Court Philippe Chatrier was defending champion Li Na , who faced no such troubles as she kicked off her campaign in style with victory over Sorana Cirstea. The reigning champion needed less than an hour to wrap up a 6-2 6-1 victory to move into round two.
Sabine Lisicki was dumped out at the first-round stage after the German was beaten in straight sets by Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The No. 12 seed, who reached the last-four at Wimbledon last summer, fell to a 6-4 6-3 defeat.
Former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic had to come from a set down to beat Patricia Mayr-Achleitner 1-6 6-1 7-5, while former French Open semi-finalist Dominika Cibulkova cruised past home favourite Kristina Mladenovic 6-2 6-1.
Vera Zvonareva's French Open campaign was over before it began as the Russian was forced to withdraw with a shoulder injury. Lucky loser Sesil Karatantcheva will take her place in the draw and will take on Hungary's Timea Babos in the first round.
Nadia Petrova saw off Iveta Benesova 6-3 6-3, while Vania King was a 6-4 6-2 winner over Galina Voskoboeva.
No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska blasted her way past Bojana Jovanovski, prevailing 6-1 6-0 to breeze into the second round. Eighth seed Marion Bartoli dispatched Czech qualifier Karolina Pliskova in straight sets, while Flavia Pennetta, the 18th seed, fought from a set down to dump out Hsieh Su-Wei 6-7(3) 6-4 6-2.