Tennis: Serena escapes as women's seeds continue to fall

US player Serena Williams celebrating after winning her match against Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam during the women's second round of the Roland Garros 2015 French Tennis Open in Paris on May 28, 2015. Williams won the match 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. -- PHOTO:
US player Serena Williams celebrating after winning her match against Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam during the women's second round of the Roland Garros 2015 French Tennis Open in Paris on May 28, 2015. Williams won the match 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (Reuters) - The pre-tournament shortlist of favourites for the French Open women's crown continued to shrink and for a while on Thursday it looked as though top seed, Serena Williams, would also vanish.

Shortly after former world number one Caroline Wozniacki was knocked out by Julia Goerges, meaning the third, fifth and sixth seeds had all gone before round three, Williams, 33, faced unheralded 21-year-old German Anna-Lena Friedsam.

It looked like a mismatch but 105th-ranked Friedsam gave the 19-times grand slam champion a torrid time on Court Suzanne Lenglen, taking the first set before a nervy Williams recovered to scrape into the third round 5-7 6-3 6-3.

Twice former champion Williams has suffered at the French Open before - last year when she was beaten by Spain's Garbine Muguruza at the same stage and more memorably in 2012 when France's Virginie Razzano knocked her out in round one.

With the American's groundstrokes sailing over the baseline and even her fearsome serve deserting her in the first set - she was broken three times - another blot on her incredible grand slam record loomed.

Even when she led 4-2 in the second set, Williams appeared shaky, going 0-40 down and dropping serve, but once she got level and broke Friedsam's serve at the start of the decider she relaxed.

"A win is a win and as long as you live to survive the next day, you can always improve," Williams said. "I know my level is literally a hundred times better than I played today.

"I take more solace in the fact I can play better as opposed to the fact that that's the best I could play - then I would be in trouble."

She will have to sharpen up against former world number one Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the next round.

Denmark's fifth seed Wozniacki joined the exodus of leading players, which includes Romanian third seed Simona Halep, last year's runner-up, and number six Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, by losing 6-4 7-6(4) to Goerges.

Fourth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova survived her own trial, however, coming back to beat Spain's Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2 despite 54 unforced errors.