INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Almost half of the first round matches at the BNP Paribas Open went to three sets - 15 of 32, to be exact - and there was no shortage of those as the second round began Friday. World No.1 Victoria Azarenka was among those pushed to the limits - and she barely scraped by.
Azarenka came to Indian Wells with a 17-0 record on the season, including two straight set wins over Mona Barthel. She looked headed for another routine win against the German, building a 64 51 lead - but Barthel reeled off 10 of the next 12 games, saving a match point down 64 54 and eventually building a 4-1 lead in the third. She even served for the match twice, but Azarenka overcame it all, finally closing the match out after three grueling hours, 64 67(4) 76(6).
Barthel actually won one more point than Azarenka in the match: 127 to 126.
"It was survival," Azarenka told reporters in her press conference. "It's a good feeling to come out from a match like this with a win. I could be beating myself up somewhere in my house after losing, but I got through and I'm here. That's a good sign. To win when you're not playing your best, it's more joyful."
Azarenka was also very impressed with Barthel's play. "She played some unbelievable tennis, the best of our previous matches," the Belarusian said. "I have to give her a lot of credit for making me not play well - she really stepped it up and showed some incredible strokes, serves... all the credit to her.
"I never really heard much about her before this year. I have to play her every tournament now. She's definitely coming up, and very dangerous."
Another seed pulling off a miracle victory was No.18 seed Angelique Kerber, who trailed Sloane Stephens 62 51 and double match point, 40-15 - but the German fought until the bitter end to beat the American wildcard, 26 75 64.
There was a fallen favorite, however, in fact the player with more Indian Wells success than anyone in the draw. Daniela Hantuchova, a two-time winner here in 2002 and 2007 and this year's No.19 seed, could not keep her five year pattern going this year, suffering a 63 67(7) 63 loss to Klara Zakopalova. Hantuchova was fighting the whole match - she came back from 63 20 down and saved match point in the second set tie-break, and eventually led 3-1 in the third - but Zakopalova won five games in a row to complete the marathon upset.
"I'm very happy because I played her three times before and lost all of them," Zakopalova beamed afterwards. "I expected a very tough match. The difference came in the third set when I was 2-0, 30-0 down, and I told myself I had to fight for every point. It worked and I'm so happy to be through to the third round.
"It was very hot today. I'm 30 years old now so I'm very proud of myself!"
No.22 seed Yanina Wickmayer was also ousted in a three-setter, holding a point for a 3-1 lead in the decider but succumbing to hard-hitting Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova, 26 62 64. Gajdosova blasted 12 aces in the match.