Victoria Azarenka battled back from a set and 4-0 down to defeat Italy's Alberta Brianti on Monday and avoid becoming the first top seed in history to be knocked out in the French Open first round.
World number one Azarenka won 6-7 (6-8), 6-4, 6-2 and will face German qualifier Dinah Pfizenmaier for a place in the last 32, but she flirted with disaster for much of her two-hour, 16-minute battle on Philippe Chatrier Court.
The 32-year-old Brianti, who had never won a match in four previous main draw appearances at Roland Garros, was left to regret squandering a break point in the fifth game of the second set.
She was on the verge of a 5-0 lead when Azarenka sent down a second serve ace to stay in contention, the point proving to be the significant moment in the match.
Azarenka, who won her first major tournament at the Australian Open this year, came into Roland Garros nursing a shoulder injury which had forced her to pull out of the Italian Open two weeks ago.
And it appeared that she was heading for a shock exit until she reeled of 12 of the last 14 games as Brianti ran out of steam.
The 22-year-old Azarenka, twice a quarter-finalist in Paris, ended the match having committed 60 unforced errors and serving up six double faults.
"I started well but my game just collapsed," admitted 22-year-old Azarenka.
"I tried to stay concentrated but I don't know how I got out of it.
"The important thing in that really miserable moment, I stayed strong and I just went for my shots."
Defending champion Li Na of China advanced to the second round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Romania's Sorana Cirstea, a quarter-finalist in 2009.
"I'll just try my best," Li said, when asked to rate her chances of a successful defence.
"It's tough for me to stay at the same level all the time."
Li will face France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon for a place in the last 32.
Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska took just 49 minutes to wrap up a 6-1, 6-0 win over Serbia's Bojana Jovanovksi and will take on Venus Williams for a place in the last 32.
French eighth seed Marion Bartoli also went through, beating Czech qualifier Karolina Plizkova 6-3, 6-3.
Vera Zvonareva, the 11th seeded Russian, withdrew with a right shoulder injury while German 12th seed Sabine Lisicki slumped to a 6-4, 6-3 defeat to America's Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The United States already have 10 women in the second round, their best performance since 2003.
The other big seed to fall was Italy's 17th seed Roberta Vinci who was defeated 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 by Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden.
German Mona Barthel (30) and Romanian Monica Niculescu (32) also lost in the first round but Dominika Cibulkova (15), Flavia Pennetta (18) and Jelena Jankovic (19) all advanced.
AFPTags: tennis, sport, france First posted May 28, 2012 22:06:38