Venus, No. 2 Kuznetsova advance to third round in Australia

Updated: January 17, 2008, 8:56 AM ET news services

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Venus Williams did not want to risk going three sets in the second round of the Australian Open.

Down a break of serve in the second set to Camille Pin, the eighth-ranked Williams rallied to get back to 4-4 and won the last two games, ending a 7-5, 6-4 victory Thursday on her second match point at Melbourne Park.

Pin has never been beyond the second round in 19 majors but Williams would have been aware of the 26-year-old Frenchwoman's never-say-die approach if she tracked Maria Sharapova's path to the final last year.

Pin rallied from 5-0 down in the third set and had a chance to serve for the match at 7-6 before eventually losing 9-7 in the first round last year against the then top-seeded Sharapova. Sharapova progressed to the final before losing to Venus' sister, Serena Williams.

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Venus Williams didn't help herself with six double faults and 44 unforced errors as she tried to push Pin around the court.

Williams looked stiff, sluggish and out of sorts, trudging back to the baseline in growing bewilderment as she sprayed balls all over the court. She was clearly trying to win points as quickly as possible, venturing to the net 39 times and often going for high-risk winners. At times, she rubbed the left side of her abdomen, but later said she felt fine.

Pin was doing little more than keeping the ball in play. But she kept Williams from getting into a rhythm by mixing up her spins and drawing Williams in with drop shots, then sending her scampering back to the baseline with well-placed lobs.

Pin pulled ahead 5-4 in the first set after breaking Williams at love -- thanks to three double-faults -- only to see the American pull herself together long enough to take the last three games.

Muttering to herself, Williams found herself fighting from behind again at 2-4. Finally picking up her level of play, Williams had her best stretch, grunting as she ripped stinging winners to take the last four games.

Her first smile came as she acknowledged the crowd's cheers.

"She was a real fighter," said Venus Williams, who will face No. 31 Sania Mirza of India, a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 winner over Timea Bacsinszky. "She made me hit a lot of balls."

[+] EnlargeVenus Williams
AP Photo/Rob GriffithVenus Williams earns a 7-5, 6-4 victory on her second match point at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

Second-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova was desperate to win the first set for her own reasons against Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova. The former U.S. Open champion has never won a match at the Australian Open after conceding the first set.

And she had her difficulties in a 7-6 (0), 6-2 win.

"It was really hard. She played really well. I didn't do my job well in the first set," Kuznetsova said. "A Grand Slam is seven different matches, some days you don't feel good."

"I was trying to stay in the game, was 100 percent focused on that but sometimes it just wasn't going my way. I'm sure I'll play better next time."

Kuznetsova was down 3-0 and then 5-2 before breaking Pironkova's serve to start a four-game winning stretch that ended when she wasted her chance to serve for the first set at 6-5.

But Kuznetsova, the losing finalist at the last U.S. Open, handled the pressure better and ran off seven straight points, getting a 4-0 buffer when Pironkova double-faulted for only the second time in the match.

Kuznetsova dominated the second set, getting the decisive break in the sixth game.

Mirza, Venus Williams' next opponent, showed she is putting the controversy that haunted her Australian Open preparations well behind her as she battled to the third round.

"I am very pleased by winning a match like this today because a lot has been happening in the last couple of weeks off the court," Mirza said.

"I was down 3-1, 30-30 [in the third set] and I could have said I was just mentally not there -- it would have been a good excuse -- but I proved I am strong and hopefully I can continue to do that"

Mirza is the subject of a court summons in Bhopal after a private citizen made a complaint under the country's Prevention of Insult to the National Honour Act.

The controversy surrounds a photograph taken at the Hopman Cup mixed team event in Perth, played at the beginning of the year, that appeared to show Mirza's bare feet resting near the national flag.

Mirza said she was looking forward to a meeting with Venus Williams, having played her sister, Serena, at the same stage in Melbourne three years ago, when she became the first Indian woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam event.

"I am very excited to play Venus," she said.

"I have nothing to lose and feel like I am playing well. I want to try to get a good start."

Other women's seeded players advancing were No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 14 Nadia Petrova and No. 27 Maria Kirilenko, who beat Akiko Morigami of Japan 6-1, 6-1.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.