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Fourth Day: 'Survival of the fittest'

Fourth day at Wimbeldon turned out to be eventful. Williams and Nadal made a narrow escape to the third round whereas Agassi and Mauresmo played refined matches.

india Updated: Jun 30, 2006 01:16 IST

Venus Williams waited until the last minute to get going.

Down a set and 5-2, the defending champion won 11 of the next 13 games to stave off a huge upset and beat Lisa Raymond 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday in the second round at Wimbledon. The three-time champion was two points from defeat, when Raymond served for the match leading 5-3 in the second set, before she roared back to overcome the 84th-ranked American. At one stretch, Williams won 34 of 39 points, including 18 in a row. She won six of her last seven service games at love, and closed out the match with her 11th ace.

"It's all about surviving to another day," Williams said. "I felt it would be such a shame to go out in the second round. I almost met my match today."

"The tennis gods caught up with me a bit today," Raymond said. "I got a bit lucky in my first round and then I put myself in a perfect position to win that match and just didn't get it done." French Open champion

Rafael Nadal pulled off a similar escape, coming back from two sets down to defeat 237th-ranked American qualifier Robert Kendrick on Centre Court and set up a third-round match against former champion Andre Agassi.

Kendrick, who plays mainly on the lower-tier challenger circuit, came within two points of victory in the fourth set before the Spaniard took charge to win 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-4. It's only the second time Nadal has come back from a two-set deficit. "He was very tough, he was serving unbelievable," Nadal said of Kendrick, who had 28 aces. "I was playing with a very good attitude all the time because it was very tough."

Kendrick, who missed a simple backhand volley in the third set tiebreaker, was twice within two points of winning at 5-4 on Nadal's serve in the fourth set.

"I knew he wasn't to give up," Kendrick said. "He's just got so much fight in him. If I could just close it out with a few more returns, different story. But he's a great player. He's going to come back from two sets to love down a lot more tournaments to come."

Nadal will next face Agassi, who beat Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to extend his run in his 14th and final Wimbledon. "He's very confident, great competitor," Agassi said of Nadal, who has won 60 straight clay-court matches but has never been past the third round on the grass at Wimbledon. "Needless to say, very talented and fit. So it's going to be a hard match." The two have played only once, with Nadal beating Agassi in the final of the Masters Series event in Montreal on hard courts last year.

"It's a nice match for me, so it's a nice match for everybody," Nadal said. "It's going to be tough."

The 36-year-old Agassi, the oldest player in the men's draw, dropped serve only once _ while going for the second set _ and broke three times to subdue the 68th-ranked Seppi.

"That was a considerable improvement," he said. "I felt much better today. Felt pretty good."

Just as he had after his opening round win Tuesday on Centre Court, Agassi received a raucous standing ovation from the fans on Court 1. Agassi, who won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles here in 1992, announced last weekend that he will retire after the U.S. Open in September.

"It means the world to me," he said of the fans' reception. "I want to go out there and do something special for them. I want to be my best."

Raymond, playing strong serve-and-volley tennis, was on the verge of upsetting Williams but couldn't close it out. Serving for the match, she had 30-15 and 30-30, but Williams responded with winners, broke serve and never looked back.

Raymond said she rushed her serve in that game and let things slip away.

"She got a glimpse of me getting tight and getting upset with myself and realizing, `Hey, I'm back in this match," she said. "I just let it affect me for a couple of games. You can't give Venus Williams any sort of a head start and I did that in the third. She took it and ran with it."

In other women's play, top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo beat Samatha Stosur, 6-4, 6-2, her fourth straight win over the 50th-ranked Australian. The Frenchwoman has reached the Wimbledon semifinals three times.

Maria Sharapova, the 2004 women's champion, overpowered Ashley Harkleroad 6-2, 6-2 in 67 minutes. The match was slightly tougher than her 51-minute 6-2, 6-0 win the previous day over Anna Smashnova.

"I didn't think I had enough of a challenge to see where my game was at in the first round," the third-seeded Russian said. "The points were very quick. But today I played a few rallies and I definitely did a lot of good things."