By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifth seed Simona Halep narrowly avoided a third-round upset with a 6-1 2-6 6-4 win over Hungary's Timea Babos on Saturday to keep her U.S. Open title hopes alive.
Halep came into the match having dropped nine games in her opening two matches and looked ready to make speedy work of Babos but she needed two hours and eight minutes on an overcast Arthur Ashe Stadium court to secure her place in the last 16.
After blitzing the opening set in 24 minutes, Halep meekly surrendered the second to the 34th-ranked Babos, who had been knocked out in the opening round in four previous visits to Flushing Meadows.
Babos continued to apply the pressure in the third, breaking Halep at the first opportunity, but the fiery Romanian battled back, angrily smashing her racket on to the court before holding serve for a 5-4 lead.
Halep was gifted her place in the fourth round when Babos double-faulted to hand her the break and match.
"I don’t know how I came back," Halep told reporters. "I felt like I didn’t play my best but I was fighting to the end for every ball.
"I was trying to push her back. I was trying to run for every ball. I did everything I could today and I’m really happy I could finish the match in my way."
Next up for Halep is 11th-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro who advanced with a tidy 6-4 6-3 win over Russian Elena Vesnina.
(Additional reporting by Larry Fine. Editing by Ed Osmond)