WARSAW, May 4 (Reuters) Venus Williams hung on for a dramatic 4-6 7-5 6-4 victory over Martina Hingis today to reach the quarter-finals of the Warsaw Cup.
American Williams, who has been taking medication for a throat infection, suffered cramps in the final set and could barely move at the end of only her third match of 2006.
Hingis had every opportunity to win the two hour 38-minute battle and the nightmare of her struggle to get the better of the Williams sisters, which many in the game believe played a part in her retirement in 2002, re-emerged.
A strong wind prevented both players from producing their best tennis and Swiss Hingis came within two points of victory over the Wimbledon champion at 5-4 in the second set.
''Being up a set, 5-4, 30-0 she's almost giving it to me,'' said Hingis. ''But then she came out fighting and that's what brought her the victory.'' Williams was thrilled to have won such a challenging match so early in her comeback. The seventh seed is playing this week for the first time in over three months.
''I guess I said that prayer just in time,'' Williams told reporters. ''It was just crazy, it was intense. Even I wouldn't expect that of myself.
''Each and every win is nice. This is obviously an amazing moment. It's definitely a wonderful sign, this early in my return.'' Although Williams held for 5-5 in the second set and conceded just two points in the remainder of the set, cramps struck her when she had broken to lead 1-0 in the third.
She received treatment at 1-1 after dropping her serve, again after breaking to love to lead 2-1, and once more when leading 3-2.
When Hingis, like Williams a former world number one, broke her to love to level at 3-3 it appeared as if the American's challenge was over.
Barely able to lift off to serve, or to move, she relied on hitting out as hard as she could at any ball that came within reach.
The American's big forehand had already given Hingis major problems, and there were enough of them in the desperate last stages to prevent the Swiss taking control.
The power of her opponent forced Hingis into errors. After an exchange of breaks to 4-4, a forced backhand error gave Williams another break for 5-4 and she served out for the match.
I saw no reason to give up. I saw only a reason to continue,'' Williams said.
Second seed Patty Schnyder of Switzerland was beaten by Serbia's Anna Ivanovic for the first time in five meetings, losing 6-3 6-2.
Schnyder had difficulty holding her first two service games, before Ivanovic swept the final four games of the set. The Serbian, broke to lead 1-0 in the second set before closing out the match by claiming the last three games.
Fourth seeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova eased past Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3 6-1 while Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova was beaten 6-4 6-3 by Russia's Anna Chakvetadze.
REUTERS PM PC2348