(Reuters) - Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber was pushed to a third-set tiebreaker by 80th-ranked Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena before winning 6-2 5-7 7-6(3) and advancing to the third round of the Volvo Car Open clay court event in South Carolina.
Defending champion Kerber lost the first point of the decider before running off the next four to seize control as the German claimed the tie-break 7-3 to end a two hour, 38 minute marathon in Charleston.
"First of all, the first rounds are always tough and Lara played an unbelievable match," Kerber said. "After the first set, she was fighting. She is a great player and a great clay court player."
The match-up did not look likely to produce such drama as the Spaniard had taken only five games in two previous meetings with top-seeded Kerber, including a 6-3 6-0 loss in the round of 16 here last year.
But after the opening set, the groundstroke battle at the Family Circle Tennis Center was fiercely fought.
In a see-saw third set, world number two Kerber twice went up a break but each time Arruabarrena broke right back, the first time after the Spaniard lost serve in a game that went to 10 deuces before Kerber ended it on her fourth break point.
In another three-set cliffhanger, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia saved four match points before ousting 11th seed Kristina Mladenovic of France 4-6 6-4 7-6, prevailing 13-11 in the tie-break to reach the third round.
In first-round matches, 10th seed Sam Stosur of Australia was a 6-4 6-4 winner against qualifier Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia, and Canadian Eugenie Bouchard beat Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania 6-3 6-4.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford)