Serena withstands fightback to advance at Miami

MIAMI: World number one Serena Williams launched her bid for a ninth Miami Open crown Thursday by outlasting US compatriot Christina McHale 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 to reach the third round.


The 34-year-old defending champion, who like all seeds received a first-round bye, will next face Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, who ousted Australian Daria Gavrilova 7-5, 6-3.

Williams, who watched tournaments at the combined WTA and ATP hardcourt event as a child, seeks her fourth consecutive title.

“To play here is always special to me,” she said.

But Williams, whose back-to-back finals losses at the Australian Open and Indian Wells were her first since 2004, had to withstand a fightback from her 23-year-old rival with the match on her racquet.

“She definitely started fighting back,” Williams said. “And she s clearly capable of playing great tennis.”

Williams served for the match in the 10th game of the second set but netted a backhand to surrender a break. McHale held and won the first three points of the 12th game off Williams serve. The top seed pulled back two but swatted a forehand wide to force a third set.

McHale denied Williams on three break points to hold the first game of the final set but the defending champion broke in the third and smashed a backhand service return winner to break again in the seventh game.

Williams had to fight off two break points in the final game, saving one with her 12th ace and the other with a service winner, and she blasted her 13th ace on match point to finally end matters after two hours and seven minutes.

Williams fired 13 aces and 36 winners with 43 unforced errors while McHale managed seven aces and 26 winners against 31 unforced errors.

Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova reached the third round with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over 83rd-ranked American Irina Falconi.

Kvitova next faces Russian 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted Ukraine s Lesia Tsurenko 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“I served pretty well,” the Czech eighth seed said. “She played better in the second set and that s what made it tougher. It s always a little bit tricky when it s someone you have never played before.”

Kvitova next faces Russian 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted Ukraine s Lesia Tsurenko 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Uzbek Denis Istomin rallied to beat Croatia s Borna Coric 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in a first-round match to book a Saturday matchup with British second seed Andy Murray, who won their first two meetings back in 2013.

“He hasn t lost to me but I will try my best to beat him,” Istomin said.

Federer returns on Friday

Roger Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam singles champion, will return Friday from an eight-week layoff for left knee surgery against Argentina s Juan Martin Del Potro, himself in only his third event back from a lengthy layoff after left wrist surgery.

The Swiss star has a 15-5 career edge on Del Potro but the South American won their biggest matchup in the 2009 US Open final.

World number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic, seeking his third Miami crown in a row and sixth overall, begins his title quest Friday against Britain s 87th-ranked Kyle Edmund.

Djokovic won last week at Indian Wells after taking his 11th Grand Slam title in January at the Australian Open.

“Every step he takes, history gets written,” Federer said of Djokovic. “It has been impressive to say the least. It makes guys reconsider their game and how they train. You ve got to make it difficult for him. You have to believe from the first point to the last, that s for sure.”

Victoria Azarenka, coming off a victory over Williams in the Indian Wells final, plays her opener Friday against Puerto Rico s Monica Puig.