Australian Open: Williams happy to have survived

Venus Williams counted her blessings and breathed a massive sigh of relief today as she squeezed through to the last 16 of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Venus Williams counted her blessings and breathed a massive sigh of relief today as she squeezed through to the last 16 of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Worried by a knee injury, the number two seed, reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion, looked to be heading out of the championship when she lost the first four games against Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.

But she somehow came back to win 3-6 6-0 6-4 and now is four matches from capturing her third successive Grand Slam title.

Williams, whose condition improved remarkably as the match progressed, said: ‘‘I was told to take yesterday off - I didn’t want to - and the main battle was to get the swelling down.

‘‘After the first set I started to feel more comfortable and I’m so happy to have survived.’’

The 21-year-old American, whose injury had been diagnosed as patella tendonitis, now faces Bulgarian Magdalena Maleeva, the 13th seed who beat her the last time they met.

‘‘That match was a nightmare,’’ Williams recalled. ‘‘Hopefully this time it will be a dream come true.’’

Hantuchova was the 32nd seed, but once the chance presented itself to beat such a high-profile name in straight sets her game deteriorated.

The same happened to her in the Canadian Open last year when she was a set and two breaks up on Jennifer Capriati. Two points from winning, she lost the second set and Capriati took the third 6-0.

Williams breezed the second set here in 25 minutes and made it eight games in a row. But then Hantuchova rallied and at 4-4 she thought she had held serve, only for a forehand down the line at 40-30 to be called out by a fraction of an inch.

The 18-year-old’s disappointment doubled when she lost the game and Williams, whom a watching Billie Jean King described as improving from 25% fitness to 100% during the course of the match, escaped.

If she beats Maleeva, Williams might well have to face eighth seed Monica Seles, a four-time Australia Open champion, in the quarter-finals.

Seles, now 28, beat 31st seeded Italian Francesca Schiavone 6-4 6-4.

‘‘It was a tough match, but in the key points I played well,’’ she said.

‘‘She’s such a fighter - she doesn’t give you any free points.

‘‘I definitely have to play better than I did today, though, to take the title.’’

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