WARSAW, May 4 (Reuters) - Venus Williams hung on for a dramatic 4-6 7-5 6-4 victory over Martina Hingis on Thursday 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 like 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. Definitely just living in the moment.
"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 set.
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, and 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.
"You just want to make her run and don't miss, but you should be more aggressive and make more out of it. Sometimes I was just hoping for her to miss," said Hingis.
Instead, it was the desperate Williams who went for her shots. "A lot of them I missed," she said, "but I got to make a lot of them too. I saw no reason to give up. I saw only a reason to continue."