Former finalist Venus Williams came close to retiring hurt but gathered her fighting resources on Wednesday to struggle past Czech Sandra Zahlavova 7-6 (8-6), 6-0, 6-4 and into the third round of the Australian Open.

It was a similar — if less dramatic — scenario for French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, who had to hold off a spirited Canadian challenge from number 104 Rebecca Marino 6-3, 5-7, 9-7 as the outsider saved three match points and sent the contest into a deciding set.

Williams, who had not played since the U.S. Open semi-final four months ago, has been plagued by injury over the past year. The 30-year-old played only nine events and 45 matches in 2010.

Williams developed an abdominal problem on a high backhand late in the first set and was taken off court for a strapping amid great uncertainty. But sheeventually rose from the depths to overwhelm the Czech and scratch through for the unexpected victory, “I’m such long way from home, I didn’t want to go home yet. I just started going for shots,” said the 2003 Melbourne finalist Williams.

Schiavone was tested by Marino in their second-round battle lasting almost two and a half hours.

Wozniacki, Henin ease through

It was a breeze for two other seeds as number one Caroline Wozniacki and seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin both powered through, losing only five games between them.

Dane Wozniacki, still seeking a first title at a major to validate her new WTA number one ranking, crushed American Vania King, a Grand Slam doubles finalist, 6-1, 6-0.

Belgian Henin, who topped the rankings before she retired at the height of her powers but returned to tennis a year ago, was untouchable as she put out British player Elena Baltacha 6-1, 6-3.

Wozniacki went through in 58 minutes, winning 55 total points to just 25 for King. Henin fired seven aces over Baltacha, breaking four times.

“I definitely felt like I was playing good tennis today,” Wozniacki said. “I was playing aggressively, I was playing my game and I felt comfortable out there.

“I took the balls early, I made her run. I had a couple of good net approaches. In general I played a really good and solid match.”

Eighth seed Victoria Azarenka defeated Czech Andrea Hlavackova 6-4, 6-4 while former champion Maria Sharapova, the number 14 seed, beat Virginie Razzano of France 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.

Fish beats Robredo

In the men’s sections, American number 16 Mardy Fish was the only seed to fall in the day session, losing as Spain’s Tommy Robredo turned the tables 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Fish was given a medical all-clear from any glandular fever but was told he must treat a less-serious thyroid problem which is draining his energy.

Good friend and former high school flatmate Andy Roddick advanced in efficient style past Russian Igor Kunitsyn 7-6 (9-7), 6-2, 6-3.

“It could have gotten uncomfortable today if that first set would have gotten away,” admitted the American.

Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych needed a set to get untracked on the way to a defeat of German Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

Spanish seeds Fernando Verdasco and Nicolas Almagro turned in heroic five-set winning efforts. Number nine Verdasco presided over a meltdown from Serb Janko Tipsarevic, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), 6-0.

Number 14 Almagro put out Russian Igor Andreev 7-5, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (12—10), 7-5.

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