Survival mode in high heat
By JOHN PYE
AP Sports Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova recovered from the longest, hottest match of her career to beat Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (6) Saturday and reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Her third-round match was played in high humidity but in temperatures of about 22 Celsius (72 Fahrenheit), considerably cooler than the scorching 42 C (108 F) conditions she endured for 3 hours, 28 minutes in her second-round win over Karin Knapp two days previously. That preceded the first match suspensions under the tournament’s Extreme Heat Policy in five years.
Again, though, Sharapova struggled to close out. She took 50 minutes between her first and last match points against Knapp, and needed almost 30 minutes to finish off Cornet — she missed a match point with a wayward backhand on the Frenchwoman’s serve and then got broken twice while trying to serve for the match.
Sharapova had six doubles-faults and 29 of her total 35 unforced errors in the second set after breezing through the first.
“After the last match I’m just happy to get through this,” Sharapova said. “Definitely need to step it up. I was lucky to get through the other day, now that I’m in the second week, I’m level.”
The four-time major winner needed an ice bath after her second-round win but joked about needing a warm bath following her victory over Cornet.
The third-seeded Sharapova was still wearing ice vests and draping ice-filled towels over her shoulders in the changeovers on Saturday.
No. 25 Cornet appeared to be laboring between points in the second set, spending time retreating to the shade and breathing deeply at certain stages. She had been clearly distressed after her second-round win in the heat, also, sobbing when she described the conditions as like “an oven.”
Sharapova will next play Dominika Cibulkova, who beat No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-0 in 59 minutes. Suarez Navarro was clearly still fatigued from her three-hour, second-round match in the extreme heat. She hit only two winners against Cibulkova.
“I finished the last match with pain. I tried to recover yesterday but it was not possible to play good today,” she said after Saturday’s defeat. “When you play with these players at this level, you need to be 90 percent perfect or 100 percent perfect. If you are less than this, you cannot play, you cannot be on court.”
Former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic had a 6-4,7-5 win over Kurumi Nara, her third consecutive win over a Japanese player, to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 Simona Halep, who advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 over qualifier Zarina Diyas.
On the men’s side, Roger Federer beat Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 while top-ranked Rafael Nadal played Gael Monfils in a late match at Rod Laver Arena.
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