LONDON, Great Britain - No.9 seed Agnieszka Radwanska was twice a point away from becoming the highest-seeded casualty of Wimbledon so far - but rediscovered her grass-court game in the nick of time to emerge a 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-3 victor over the unseeded Christina McHale in two hours and 42 minutes.
The Pole spent most of the clay season on the sidelines with a foot injury, lost her only grass warm-up match in Eastbourne to Lauren Davis, and before today had won consecutive WTA Tour matches just once since January. Throughout the first two sets, her hampered physical preparation was evident against a player she had never lost even a set to in their five previous encounters. Time and again, Radwanska was a step slow, and the pinpoint defence for which she is famed instead resulted in errors after being outhit by a determined McHale.
The American was striking her forehand with real purpose, hitting 33 winners to 25 unforced errors over the first two sets, and her serve was a revelation. The World No.60 had delivered just two aces in her three-set win over Katie Boulter in the first round - but along with her total of five today, racked up numerous unreturned serves.
Indeed, the first and second sets were curiously serve-dominated, with McHale winning 79% of her first serve points and Radwanska 80%. Neither player's name is a regular on ace leaderboards, but both used accurate placement to set up points efficiently: until 5-5, there had been just one break point in the match, against the McHale serve.
The American countered it, and won the game, with three consecutive unreturnable deliveries. It was a double fault, ironically, that was Radwanska's undoing in the penultimate game of the set - and though a double fault on her first set point provided a foreshadowing of future McHale wobbles today, the 25-year-old closed out the set by eliciting another backhand error on defence from the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up.
The pattern continued in the second set after an early exchange of breaks: McHale scored one hold to love and two to 15, while in one stretch Radwanska won 12 of 14 points on her own delivery. The stage was set for a dramatic tiebreak: the American led 5-2 before being pulled back to 5-5, but held the first match point when Radwanska missed a forehand down the line by inches.
Upping her aggression, the 28-year-old dragged her opponent from side to side before putting away an overhead; minutes later, McHale went for one of the forehands down the line with which she had been dominating - and sent it into the net. Two points later, another errant groundstroke had sent the match into a decider.
Buoyed by her escape, Radwanska unlocked her finesse in the final set, crafting the cat-and-mouse points crowds have come to expect for the first time today. Her dinks and dropshots from all corners of the court didn't help McHale regain equilibrium after her missed opportunity, and after hitting errors on two break points in the second game, the American fell away somewhat to concede eight straight points.
Though she continued to fight hard, notably fending off six further break points to go down a double break at 3-4 and holding three of her own in the following game, Radwanska was in full control now.
The Pole broke to love in the final game as McHale brought her total of unforced errors to 17 in the third set alone, and goes through to face No.19 seed Timea Bacsinszky in the third round.