Unfancied Australian outsider Olivia Rogowska came close to an upset in the opening round of the US Open on Tuesday before rattled top seed Dinara Safina pulled herself together to scratch out a perilous 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-4 first round win.
The Russian world number one, who has never won a Grand Slam but has lost three major finals, was down a break in the third set against the 167th-ranked wild card and looking fragile.
But Safina managed to stumble through an error-plagued contest lasting well over two and a half hours to escape.
Safina was in danger of becoming the only US Open women's number one to lose in the first round first since the Open era began in 1968.
The Russian finally gained control over her modest opponent in the closing stages, breaking for 4-3 and again two game later as Rogowska fired her 34th and 35th forehand errors.
Shaky Safina was relieved to serve it out a game later, winning to love with a forehand to the open court.
"The crowd helped me today," said the winner. It was positive that I didn't break a racket or get a warning," said the volatile younger sister of Marat Safin. "When I was down 4-3, I just told myself to really look at the ball when I serve. I'm just glad to have won."
Safina squeezed through with 48 unforced errors to 65 for Rogowska, making her New York debut.
Other seeds spared the drama, with number six Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, a former champion, defeating German Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-2, and ninth-seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki hammering Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakstan 6-4, 6-0.
Russian 13th seed Nadia Petrova beat veteran Katarina Srebotnik 6-3, 6-3.
Men's seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga set up a match with returning Finn Jarkko Niemimen after reaching the second round over American Chase Buchanan 6-0, 6-2, 6-1.
The Frenchman will next play Nieminen after the Finn who missed nearly four months due to wrist surgery, won in only his second match back 7-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 over Italian Fabio Fognini.
"It's nice to get the first win almost immediately," said Nieminen, ranked 54th, "There's no better place than a Grand Slam to do it."
Spanish 10th seed Fernando Verdasco started with a victory over German Benjamin Becker 7-5, 6-4, 7-5, while American journeyman Jesse Witten upset Russian Igor Andreev 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.