Azarenka produces stunning fightback to avoid embarrassing early exit

Victoria Azarenka survived an almighty scare in the first round of the French Open as unheralded Italian Alberta Brianti pushed the world No 1 all the way on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Australian Open champion Azarenka came within two games of becoming the first ever top seed to crash out at the first hurdle at Roland Garros when she trailed by a set and 0-4, but she fought back for a 6-7 (6/8) 6-4 6-2 win in two hours and 16 minutes.

Sealed with a kiss: Victoria Azarenka The 22-year-old from Belarus, whose victory in Melbourne in January was her maiden major title, is widely tipped to make it back-to-back grand slam triumphs in Paris this fortnight but will have to raise her game to make that a reality.

Azarenka's 60 unforced errors against the world No 105 was a damning statistic, and she will be seeking a marked improvement in her second-round encounter against Germany's Dinah Pfizenmaier.

There was little sign of the hard-fought battle to come when Azarenka broke in the first game of the match and then held for an early 2-0 lead.
Brianti, at the age of 32 some 10 years Azarenka's senior, was soon into her stride, however, serving notice of her threat with a superb backhand volley to break back for 2-2.

The Italian took the next two games as mistakes began to affect Azarenka, but the top seed broke back as Brianti served for the set at 5-3. Both held the rest of the way to force the tie-break that Brianti won as Azarenka fired long.

Bleak: Azarenka had looked set to be knocked out in the first round

Her tail up, Brianti raced to the first four games of the second set and was a point away from making it 5-0, but Azarenka stopped the rot by winning a game that could have gone either way.

It had taken Azarenka 26 minutes to win her first game of the second set, yet just 14 minutes later she had five on the board and her opponent was serving to stay in the set.

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