MIAMI, FL, USA - With stars like Kelly Rowland watching from the stands, Serena Williams fittingly put on a survival show at the Sony Open Tennis, winning a marathon against an inspired Caroline Garcia.
The match was neck-and-neck from the beginning - Williams won a hard-fought 38-minute first set, 6-4, and the two players were on serve through the first nine games of the second set, with a tie-break seemingly looming as Williams served at 4-5, winning the first point of that game to go up 15-0.
That's when Garcia pounced - four straight points and the 52-minute second set was hers, 6-4.
The Frenchwoman extended her streak to six points in a row by building a 30-0 lead in the opening game of the third frame, but the No.1-seeded Williams got back on track right away, breaking in that game and then continuing to fight through some uncharacteristic errors to close it out, 64 46 64.
"She's obviously a really good player," Williams said after the match. "She plays well. Granted, she played great, but I really gave myself a tremendous amount of trouble out there too - I made so many unforced errors, I hit so short, it really isn't the same player - I really just have to do better."
"It was already my third time playing Serena, so maybe she was a little less intimidating than the previous times," Garcia said. "I just tried to forget it's Serena Williams, forget that she's won how many Grand Slams, and just be me and just play. And I'm happy with what I did. It was a good match.
"She's a great player and she's always fighting a lot. I think it was a good test for me."
But while there were some rough patches, when Williams saw the finish line she was all in - serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set she blasted three massive first serves, two of them aces, to go up 40-0, and then finished with a huge forehand winner. The final tally: 34 winners, 47 unforced errors.
"I had 40-something errors - it's not the way to play professional tennis. Maybe amateur. On the professional tour you have to do a little better than that. Hopefully I can do better in the next matches."
Williams is now through to the fourth round of the tournament she has won six times before - 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2013. She is one of just four players in WTA history to have won any WTA event six or more times, alongside WTA legends Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.