Brindisi, Italy: Top-ranked Serena Williams had to fight back from a set down and figure out how to deal with strong winds before overcoming Italy's Sara Errani 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 in a Fed Cup playoff Sunday, giving the United States a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
While Williams held a massive 70-7 lead in winners, she committed nearly three times as many unforced errors as the 15th-ranked Errani.
Until the very end, Williams struggled to dictate play against an opponent who had never before presented her with serious problems.
Still, Williams improved to 20-0 this year and 16-0 in Fed Cup for her career.
Next up, Brindisi-born Flavia Pennetta was facing 65th-ranked Christina McHale, followed by a potentially decisive doubles match.
The doubles teams named were McHale and Alison Riske against Karin Knapp and Pennetta. But U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez has said that Williams will play doubles if the series is tied, in which case Errani would likely pair with Pennetta.
Williams entered with a 7-0 career edge over Errani and had lost a total of four games in their previous two meetings. She usually dominates Errani by taking advantage of the Italian's weak serve but the wind prevented her from stepping too far into the court.
The Circolo Tennis Brindisi is located next to the southern city's port and a sharp breeze was blowing off the bay.
Williams and Errani often had to catch their tosses and start their service motions over again, or delay play when the wind whipped clay into their eyes between points.
"The wind helped me," Errani said. "Against a player like her it favored me."
Already in the first three games of the match, Williams committed nine unforced errors as Errani played her usual defensive game and just tried to keep the rallies going.
With the soldout crowd of 4,000 chanting her first name, Errani served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but Williams played solidly and then the American surged to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreaker and pushed it to a third.
There were four consecutive breaks of serve to open the third set and it was tied 3-3 before Williams finally surged ahead and won the final three games, closing it out at love in the last game on her first match point.
"It's a shame. I was so close. It was just a matter of a few points," Errani said. "But in the end, she created the difference."