BEIJING, China - Serena Williams and Maria Kirilenko are two of the most revered players at the China Open - they were the tournament's first two winners after all, Williams in 2004 and Kirilenko in 2005. And on Thursday they squared off for a place in this year's quarterfinals, with Williams prevailing.
From the head-to-head, one might have assumed it was a mismatch - Williams had beaten Kirilenko in all seven previous meetings, and by 62 60 and 63 61 scorelines in their two previous meetings this year. But this time it was as close as could be, with Kirilenko having big chances in both sets.
Neither player could break early in the match, with Kirilenko becoming the first to draw blood with a break at 4-all, serving for the first set at 5-4 - she even had 40-0 and triple set point. But Williams fought them all off and ended up winning the set on a Kirilenko double fault after 50 minutes of play.
Kirilenko went ahead again in the second set, breaking for 3-2 then consolidating it for 4-2, but the No.1-seeded Williams clawed her way back into it again, closing the match out in straights, 75 75.
"I just thought, 'What else can I do except fight for this point and the next point,'" Williams said of triple set point in the first set. "Maybe I got lucky a little bit - I just started to relax and kind of swing and not think about it too much out there. I'm obviously just really happy to get through this match today."
The match numbers were pretty even on the unforced errors side - Williams 25, Kirilenko 26 - but the World No.1 hit her targets far more throughout the match, slamming 31 winners to Kirilenko's 20.
Williams got her 70th match win of the season - before this year her personal best for a season was 58.
Also among the early winners was No.8 seed Jelena Jankovic, who got through in much simpler fashion, beating No.12 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, 60 60. Suárez Navarro had game point in two of the games - one in the first set, one in the second - but never converted during the 59-minute rout.
It was Jankovic's third 60 60 win at the WTA main draw level, the other two times being at Budapest in 2004 (against Ludmila Cervanova) and right here in Beijing in 2007 (against Virginia Ruano Pascual).