- Associated Press - Monday, May 28, 2012

PARIS | Only 22, just recently a Grand Slam champion and ranked No. 1 for the first time, Victoria Azarenka still is learning to think like a top player.

So trailing by a set and one point from being down 5-0 in the second at the French Open on Monday, Azarenka’s mind was filled with “a mix of things.”

“Sometimes I felt it was not my day,” she explained. “Sometimes I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe I still fight, I still have a chance.’ Sometimes it was like, ‘You know what? Forget it. I don’t want to do it.’ “

And yet she did do it, listening to the most positive of those voices and beginning the climb back from a daunting deficit with a gutsy second-serve ace, of all things.

Showing how far she’s come from the petulance of earlier in her career, Azarenka took 12 of the last 14 games to beat Alberta Brianti 6-7 (8-6), 6-4, 6-2.

On the men’s side 16-time major champion Roger Federer dealt with a few blips, getting broken once in each set, including when serving for the match for the first time. But he defeated Tobias Kamke 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 to tie Jimmy Connors’ Open era record of 233 Grand Slam match wins.

“They’re never easy, those first rounds, you know. Last thing you want is to go down a set or [get] in a tough situation, but I was able to stay ahead in the first set. Had bits of ups and downs on my serve,” Federer said. “But overall, I’m happy I’m through. That’s what I look at in the end. Sometimes you have to come through when you’re not playing your very best.”

The top-seeded man, Novak Djokovic beat Potito Starace 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-1 to began his bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win a fourth consecutive Grand Slam titles.

Federer and Djokovic met in the semifinals in Paris a year ago, when Federer ended Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak.

Azarenka certainly did not want to become the only top-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the French Open since the tournament started allowing foreign entrants in 1925. But she needed every bit of fortitude to right things while overcoming a whopping 60 unforced errors, far more than her 32 winners - a terrible ratio for anyone, let alone a player who considers herself a title contender.

Azarenka quickly dug herself a hole against Brianti, 32, whose career prize money of about $1 million pales next to the more than $4.5 million her decade-younger opponent has earned in the past five months.

But with Azarenka’s shots going awry, Brianti took advantage. The Italian later acknowledged being thrown off, though, by what happened when the match was hers for the taking. Already up a set and 4-0 in the second, the 105th-ranked Brianti held a break point and was one point from serving for the monumental upset.

Azarenka called that a “really miserable … moment.” Instead of folding, she fought her way into the match.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal, starts his try for a record seventh French Open title Tuesday, facing Simone Bolelli. Day 3 also features fourth-seeded Andy Murray, 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and three-time major winner Maria Sharapova.

Williams normally leads the way for the United States at big tournaments, but now she will be trying to keep up her end of the bargain: All 10 American women who played Sunday or Monday won, giving the country its largest contingent in the second round at Roland Garros since 11 made it in 2003.

Other winners Monday included defending champion Li Na and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, who next meets seven-time major champion Venus Williams.



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