Venus Williams looked destined for the exit before staging a stunning turnaround to beat Petra Kvitova in the second round at Indian Wells.
In the latest instalment of their compelling rivalry, Williams trailed by a set and a double-break before gritting her way to a 4-6 7-5 6-4 victory.
Also moving through to the last 32 were No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova – who recovered from a set down to beat Japan’s Misaki Doi – and eighth seed Angelique Kerber, who crushed Yulia Putintseva 6-0 6-2. No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3 4-6 6-0.
Later on Saturday, No.1 seed Naomi Osaka began her title defence with a straight-sets win over Kristina Mladenovic, avenging her loss to the Frenchwoman just two weeks ago in Dubai.
— WTA (@WTA) March 10, 2019
Yet 13th seed Caroline Wozniacki was unable to join Osaka in the third round; the Dane fell 7-5 2-6 7-5 to unheralded Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.
The 38-year-old Williams moves into a third-round meeting with fellow American Christina McHale, who upset 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets.
“She’s been playing so well this year, and you never know what’s gonna come off her racquet,” said Venus, who has now won her past two meetings with Kvitova and now trailed the head-to-head series 3-4.
Petra Kvitova vs. Venus Williams coming up on Stadium Court @BNPPARIBASOPEN.
Just their 7th career meeting.
All their matches have gone the distance. pic.twitter.com/hXAfWKosB9
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 9, 2019
“I was thinking that out there – I was like, I don’t know what’s working, sometimes I’m winning and sometimes I’m not (laughter). I think today I just fought, and tried my hardest, and waited for some opportunities and created some sometimes.
“The crowd was behind me … I was just happy to have your energy and to get pumped up – I just love the battle.
“I think everybody felt those ups and downs with me – I could feel the collective sigh or the collective roar. It’s unbelievable; I never want to let you down and I hope I can keep this going.”
While Williams’ comeback was impressive, Kvitova – who had won 17 of her 21 matches in 2019 – was left to rue multiple opportunities on which she failed to capitalise.
Kvitova: "I was so frustrated with myself from the half of the second set to the end, which shouldn't happen to me…. I want to swear, but I will not.”
“Suddenly I was playing, but I wasn't really there. It was such a weird feeling. I didn't really have this in this season yet."
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 10, 2019
After building a 6-4 3-0 lead, she held three break points, which, if converted, would have given her a 5-2 lead and a shot at serving for the match.
She led by a break in the third set, too, and held a game point to consolidate that break for a 5-3 lead. And, when serving to stay in the match in the 10th game, she blew a 40-15 lead with back-to-back double faults, allowing Williams to break serve and clinch victory.
Off the ground, she committed 46 unforced errors while managing 28 winners. Her 10 aces were cancelled out by 10 double faults, and she landed less than half her first serves.
She simply couldn’t hang with Venus from the baseline; the American covered the court better and was more consistent.
Williams, who has reached the quarterfinals and semifinals in her past two trips to Indian Wells, finds herself in an open wedge of the draw, now that seeds Kvitova, Pavlyuchenkova and Madison Keys – the 17th who was upset by Mona Barthel – have all been eliminated.
Earlier on Saturday, Kerber set up a clash with Russian qualifier Natalia Vikhlyantseva, who has now dropped just 11 games in four matches after routing Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-0.
“I think that I was playing really aggressive. It’s good to start the tournament like that. I think the conditions are good for me,” Kerber said.
“I never played against (Vikhlyantseva). I know a little bit about her game, but I think it will be another match for me where I have somebody who I never played before. I think that I will talk to maybe a few players and just see how she is playing.
“I will try to play like I played today, to continue the game I’m playing right now.”
Also on Saturday, seeds Anastasija Sevastova (11), Anett Kontaveit (21), Belinda Bencic (23), Lesia Tsurenko (24) and Danielle Collins (25) advanced to the third round.
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