Serena Williams is starting to look like the Serena of old.
The former top-ranked Williams beat fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 on Friday to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open, keeping alive her improbable chance for an eighth Grand Slam singles title.
It was Williams' first win over a Top 10 player since she won her last major here in 2005, beating Amelie Mauresmo in the quarterfinals, fending off match points against Maria Sharapova in the semis and overcoming Lindsay Davenport in the final. "Has it been that long?" Williams asked a news conference, shaking her head and laughing in disbelief. "That's a terrible stat."
Defending champion and second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo beat Eva Birnerova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1. Mauresmo will play another Czech, Lucie Safarova, in the fourth round after Safarova advanced when her opponent, Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus, retired with a back injury after Safarova won the first set 6-3. No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova beat fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-4 to also reach the fourth round.
Limited to four tournaments last year because of a chronic knee injury, Williams dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since 1997 before climbing back to 95th in the year-end rankings. She made 18 unforced errors, many just missing the lines, and dropped serve twice in the first set.
"I felt like I was doing everything right in the first set, and she just killed me," Williams said. "I was trying to figure out what to do."
She did, dictating early in the second and having breakpoint at 3-0, before Petrova rallied to win the next four games and then had a chance to serve for the match in the 10th.
Petrova got tight and Williams kept going for her shots, and it worked.
"I've always gone for my shots in any type of pressure situation, and I am going to keep it up," she said. "It doesn't matter - I think the more pressure I get, the tougher I get."
Williams cut down her mistakes, almost immediately, and started nailing the ground strokes that until then had been just missing. "I was down 3-5 and on the verge of being out of the tournament, and I obviously didn't want that to happen," she said.
"It was time to either move or lose, and I definitely didn't want to lose." Williams broke to tie it at 5-5 and then held serve.
Petrova admonished herself while eating an energy bar during the changeover. That didn't help, and Williams, with the capacity crowd of 15,000 increasingly behind her, won the second set when Petrova double-faulted.
Williams broke Petrova again twice in the third and ended it in 2 hours, 5 minutes when Petrova netted a service return. "She came up with some unbelievable returns," said Petrova, who is 1-6 against Williams.
"She just went for the balls and she produced an unbelievable backhand winner up the line from far behind the court. That's what gave her confidence for the third set." Williams next plays either No. 11 Jelena Jankovic or Victoria Azarenka on Sunday.
On the men's side, 14th-seeded Novak Djokovic beat Thailand's Danai Udomchoke 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 and will face the winner of Friday's later match in the Roger Federer vs. Mikhail Youzhny match in the fourth round.
Rain forced a delay in the start of some matches on the outside courts Friday, and the showers quickly returned, forcing a suspension in play for nearly two hours. The roofs on both Rod Laver Arena and the other showcourt were closed, allowing play to continue.
Another Russian, US Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny faces top-ranked Roger Federer in a men's match. Defending champion Federer is on a 32-match winning streak overall and has lost only once in his last 22 matches at Melbourne Park.
Marat Safin, who broke Federer's sequence here the 2005 semifinals, faced sixth-seeded Andy Roddick in the night match.