KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Weary winner Venus Williams stood near the net swatting souvenir balls to cheering fans, but a marathon match had taken its toll, and one attempt didn’t even reach the stands.
Williams had already expended all of her energy, erasing a match point and outlasting Aleksandra Wozniak 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in Sunday’s third round at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Her career comeback now includes a comeback. Williams is playing in her first tournament since withdrawing from the U.S. Open last August after being diagnosed with a fatigue-causing autoimmune disease.
The three-set victory was her second in less than 48 hours, and took nearly three hours.
“I just kept coming back,” Williams said. “I tried not to let anything discourage me.”
Wozniak served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but dumped a forehand in the net when she had a match point.
Talking later about the situation, Williams claimed to be unaware her opponent had been so close to winning the match.
“She had match point?” Williams said. “Oh no. Thank God I’m oblivious to the score a lot of times.”
The tiebreaker swung Williams’ way when she smacked an overhead that clipped the net cord before landing softly for a winner and a 4-2 lead. On the final point, she somehow found the strength to whack a 119-mph service winner.
“That’s the serve I wanted – just a big one to hopefully force the issue,” Williams said. “Thank God it went in. Wow.”
A former No. 1 and seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, Williams is ranked No. 134 and needed a wild card to enter the tournament. She’s trying to improve her ranking enough in the coming weeks to qualify for the London Olympics.
“Whenever things look bleak, I think about the Olympics,” Williams said. “That keeps me motivated.”
She’ll need to recover quickly for a fourth-round match tonight against No. 15-seeded Ana Ivanovic, who knocked off No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 7-6 (2).
No. 4-seeded Andy Murray, the 2009 champion, advanced in a walkover when Milos Raonic withdrew because of a sprained right ankle. Raonic said he doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
Grigor Dimitrov advanced by upsetting No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. The 20-year-old Dimitrov improved to 1-9 against top 10 players.
No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic beat No. 18 Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
In other women’s play, wild card Garbine Muguruza Blanco eliminated No. 24 Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (6). No. 7 Marion Bartoli eliminated Simona Halep 6-4, 7-6, (6).