Melbourne (CNN)Match points and Lucie Safarova have quite a history.
After barely missing on a match point against eventual champion Li Na here at the Australian Open in the third round in 2014 and saving match points in two different encounters at Wimbledon last year, the Czech saved nine of them against Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer on Tuesday in a 3-6 7-6 (9-7) 6-1 victory in the first round.
Safarova’s escape act tied the most known match points saved at a grand slam in the Open Era: Chanda Rubin pulled off the feat in 1995 at the French Open, Vincent Spadea did it in 2004 at Roland Garros and Nick Kyrgios added to the list in 2014 at Wimbledon.
“Actually when I was saving the match points, I thought about the match against Li,” Safarova, who erred on a backhand down the line against Li with the Chinese baseliner stranded, told reporters. “I was like, ‘I lost that one so I could get it back here.’ Like, fate.”
The dramatics overshadowed the heat in Melbourne, with temperatures reaching the mid-30s Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat wave won’t last, as Wednesday’s high is expected to fall to about 22 degrees, an indication of the city’s unpredictable weather.
‘Saved,’ in this case, would be the apt word to describe the 61st-ranked Safarova’s play when under the severest of pressure.
Defeating Williams would truly signal Safarova’s revival and she wasn’t daunted at the prospect of challenging the 22-time grand slam winner.
Safarova drew on the fact that Williams hasn’t played much tennis of late: Three matches, to be precise, since exiting in the US Open semifinals in September to Safarova’s compatriot, Karolina Pliskova. And in that French Open final, Safarova led by a break in the third.
It’s not, however, like Williams appeared rusty against Bencic. Indeed it was a far cry from the Williams who imploded in windy Auckland two weeks ago, striking 88 unforced errors in losing to Madison Brengle.
Bencic’s lone window surfaced when she reduced a 5-0 deficit in the second to 5-3, even earning a break point to get back on serve.
“I made a few errors on some key points, but for the most part, I still was going for everything and I was able to close it out,” Williams told reporters.
Safarova closed it out, too, albeit after considerably more drama.
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