Maria Sharapova toiled in 43-degree Celsius (109 F) temperatures for more than 3 1/2 hours on Rod Laver Arena and could count herself among the unlucky early starters at the oppressively hot Australian Open on Thursday.
After organisers finally decided to suspend matches due to extreme temperatures in a heat wave gripping southeastern Australia, late lighting and rain caused further delays on day four.
Caroline Wozniacki highlighted the unpredictable Melbourne weather, describing the conditions as “pleasant’’ when she played on Rod Laver Arena immediately after Sharapova.
And comparatively, it was. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer also enjoyed the milder temperatures when they played evening matches indoors.
Juan Martin del Potro became the first major male casualty at the Open. Del Potro was felled 4-6 6-3 5-7 6-4 7-5 in the second round by Spain’s Roberto Bautista in the early hours of Friday morning.
The roof at Rod Laver Arena re-opened when weather conditions improved, and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray won the last 23 points in the featured night match to come back from 5-1 down in the third set and beat French qualifier Vincent Millot 6-2, 6-2, 7-5.
“It was 6-5 when I went to serve for it, and someone shouted out, `You won 19 in a row’,’’ Murray said. “I would say that’s probably the most I’d ever won in my career by far. I don’t really know how I did it.’’
Organisers invoked their ‘Extreme Heat Policy’ and the roofs on the two main arenas were closed in the afternoon. Matches on outside courts, meanwhile, were suspended for more than four hours until temperatures dropped.
Problems with the weather didn’t end there — thunderstorms, lightning and rain showers hit during the early evening, forcing another suspension of play for matches on the outer courts.
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka was spared, playing indoors when she beat Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-1, 6-4. Her main rival on the bottom half of the draw had to endure the harshest conditions of the day.
The temperature was 39 C (102 F) when Sharapova’s match against No. 44-ranked Karin Knapp started. It increased to almost 43 C by the time she finished off a 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 win on her fourth match point, 50 minutes after her first. It was the longest women’s match so far in the tournament.
“I wanted this match,’’ Sharapova said. “I didn’t play my best tennis; I didn’t do many things well … (but) I got through it, and sometimes that’s what’s important.’’
At the height of the heat, Sharapova, dripping in sweat, wasted three match points on serve in the 10th game of the third set, and then had to save break points and serve to stay in the match.
She’ll next meet No. 25 Alize Cornet of France, who sobbed on court after beating Camila Giorgi of Italy 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in 2 1/2 hours. “I went really further than my limits. It was really hot, that’s why I’m so emotional,’’ Cornet said of the conditions.
Wozniacki had a 6-0, 1-6, 6-2 win over American Christina McHale, No. 8 Jelena Jankovic defeated Ayumi Morita 6-2, 6-0 and No. 13 Sloane Stephens, who beat Serena Williams last year in the quarterfinals, defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Federer on the show court
Federer played on the second show court at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade, and raced to a 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 ( 4) win over Blaz Kavcic under the roof at Hisense Arena. Federer said he didn’t mind the switch — he’d played 63 consecutive matches on Rod Laver since 2004. “It was nice … it’s not really different to Rod Laver Arena really,’’ Federer said. “Dimensions feel the same, the crowds were really nice, great atmosphere. I was happy playing there.’’
He was playing at the same time as Nadal for the first time in years at Melbourne Park. Nadal had no trouble in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Thanasi Kokkinakis under the roof on Rod Laver Arena. “Very happy to see the roof out there today,’’ Nadal said.
No. 16 Kei Nishikori had a 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (3) win over Dusan Lajovic. Other winners included No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 11 Milos Raonic, No. 18 Gilles Simon, No. 22 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 25 Gael Monfils. Organisers announced that Canadian Vasek Pospisil withdrew with a back injury from his scheduled third-round match Friday against No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka.
Bopanna-Qureshi in rd2
Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi braved stiff challenge from Rameez Junaid and Adrian Mannarino to enter the second round of the Australian Open men’s doubles. The Indo-Pak pair edged past the unseeded opponents 6-3 4-6 7-6(5). In the women’s doubles, sixth seeded Sania Mirza and her Zimbabwean partner Cara Black began their campaign with a fluent 6-1 6-4 win over Australian combo of Tammi Patterson. (PTI)