NEW YORK — What started out as a breeze turned into something much more difficult for Serena Williams on Saturday.
Williams won her third-round match at the U.S. Open, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) over fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka, but not before losing her first four match points and getting pushed to the limit in the second set.
Williams, seeded 28th because she hasn't played much the past year because of injuries, won the first set in 28 minutes and looked every bit the favorite in the remaining field. But Azarenka broke serve to tie the second set at 5. They went to a tiebreaker, and neither led by more than two points in a back-and-forth thriller that included six winners and an ace, an electric conclusion to a match that started out as a snoozer.
"I think I played really well," Williams said. "I was doing the right things out there and just need to try and keep doing those things. (Azarenka) was dictating the points in the second set, but I kind of allowed her to do that a little bit."
In the day's late match, top seed Novak Djokovic improved to 60-2 in 2011 by beating Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the fourth round.
No. 3 Roger Federer defeated 27th-seeded Marin Cilic 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to make it to the round of 16 for the 30th straight time in a Grand Slam tournament, and top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki rolled through her third straight match, 6-2, 6-4 over Vania King.
Eighth-seeded Mardy Fish needed a pair of tiebreakers to beat Kevin Anderson 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3).
Federer fought off the range of his 6-foot-6 opponent and dealt with an unpredictable wind on the show court to win his 225th match at a major, second best behind Jimmy Connors. Federer needs to win the Open to extend his streak to nine straight years with a major championship.
"I'm on track because I'm in the tournament," Federer said. "That's the most important at the end of the day. I seriously don't care how I'm playing."
Like Federer, it took Wozniacki time to figure out the breezes on a warm, windy day in New York. She has lost a total of 12 games over her first three matches.
"To be honest, I felt like I was playing with her," King said. "But she isn't No. 1 without a good reason. She is used to winning. She has that confidence."
Fish said the value of him not dropping a set against Anderson was huge.
"Mentally, physically, everything," he said. "You know, I'm 29. I don't wake up in the morning feeling like I'm 20."
Seeded players Tomas Berdych and Marcel Granollers quit during third-round matches because of injuries, raising the total retirements in men's and women's singles to a record 14, more than for any entire Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968.
The previous record was 12 at Wimbledon in 2008, the International Tennis Federation said.
There also have been two walkovers at the Open.