Seeds feel the heat as US Open sizzles
Originally published on 28/08/14
Sharapova taken the distance by Dulgheru
Maria Sharapova came from a set down to book her place in the third round of the US Open with a 4-6 6-3 6-2 victory over Romania’s Alexandra Dulgheru.
On a windy Arthur Ashe Stadium court, former champion Sharapova, the No.5 seed at Flushing Meadows, struggled with both her serve and forehand for long spells during the match, hitting nine double-faults and 46 unforced errors against the world No.95.
But Dulgheru, who has played just twice since Wimbledon, began flagging as the match wore on and Sharapova’s superior conditioning helped her turn the tide to close out victory in two hours, 38 minutes.
“The conditions were tough,” Sharapova explained. “You start in the sun; you finish under the lights. It was a very long match. Overall I felt like in the end I was in much better shape than she was and I could have played another few sets. Mentally that helped me a lot.”
Up next for Sharapova is German No.26 seed Sabine Lisicki, who beat US wildcard Madison Brengle 6-4 6-1.
Radwanska and Stephens shown the door
The third quarter of the women’s draw was thrown wide open by lunchtime on Wednesday as Sloane Stephens and Agnieszka Radwanska were both beaten in the second round.
Radwanska became the tournament’s highest-ranked casualty at the hands of Peng Shuai on Louis Armstrong Stadium, beaten 6-3 6-4 in a match that left her stunned.
“Of course it's disappointing, especially as I really feel good,” said Radwanska, who remains at a loss at her US Open record, having never been beyond the fourth round in New York. “I want to know the answer for that question, as well,” she said, smiling. “I didn't play bad today. I think it was just her day.”
Over on Arthur Ashe, Stephens produced 63 unforced errors as she slumped to a 5-7 6-4 6-2 defeat against Sweden’s Johanna Larsson, completing a disappointing Grand Slam season for the 21-year-old who only matched her 2013 results at the French Open.
“Everyone works at their own pace,” said Stephens when asked if her progress had stalled in 2014. “I’m not going to dwell on this. I'm just going to keep improving and getting better and looking forward to the next tournaments.”
Heat takes its toll on stricken Johnson
Even by New York standards, Wednesday was a scorcher at Flushing Meadows. Temperatures peaked above 31C during the day session, which combined with the humidity made life pretty uncomfortable for players out on court.
Of the day’s three retirements, two were on account of cramp – Ivan Dodig, who pulled out early in the fifth set against Feliciano Lopez; and Steve Johnson, whose dramatic deterioration was tough to watch and clearly agony to bear.
Johnson was leading Japan’s Tatsuma Ito by two sets to one when his legs began to seize up in the fourth. First he stumbled and fell fielding a slam-dunk smash before gingerly serving in the third game.
Then, after hitting a second serve into the net, he suffered a severe cramp that left him sprawled in the middle of the court. Medics were called and, in accordance with the rules, Johnson was handed both a point and a game penalty for timewasting.
Johnson did what he could to continue after treatment but could barely stay upright, suffering cramps in his hand when he tried to grip the racket. Another game penalty followed, and when he finally called it quits while trailing 4-1 a wheelchair was called. Johnson insisted on walking off court, however, a heartbreaking end to a strong summer for the world No.51.
“I didn't really feel anything coming,” Johnson said following the first retirement of his career. “It was really kind of a bizarre thing. I wish I could have played through it. I tried, but it didn't look very good. You know, it sucks at the end of the day.
“It's not the end of the world, but it feels like it right now.”
The incident threw the spotlight on the US Open’s heat policy. Like the Australian Open, the referee’s office may enforce a 10-minute break when temperatures are too high – but, somewhat bizarrely, the rule only applies to the women’s draw in New York.
Performance of the day
For pure drama, Wednesday belonged to Andrea Petkovic. The German No.18 seed was unhappy at being taken the distance in her first-round match but found herself facing an even tougher task against Monica Puig, who pushed her all the way in her 3-6 6-3 7-6(5) victory.
Having fought back from a set down, Petkovic gave up a double-break in the final set and was on course to go 5-1 down when a member of the crowd called a Puig drive that caught the baseline out. The point stood, Petkovic was incensed – and channelled her anger into her game, saving game point, breaking, and breaking again to draw level.
The atmosphere on Court 11 was electric as Puig did her best to stay in control. Petkovic continued to apply the pressure, holding firm on serve and racing out to a 3-0 lead in the ensuing tie-break.
Puig refused to go lightly, however, rallying to claim the next five points and once more Petkovic was on the brink. But as the Puerto Rican blinked, the German held her nerve and rattled through the final four points for victory and a meeting with Caroline Wozniacki, throwing her racket into the sky in celebration.
Quote of the day
“I still tried to hit the ball. Almost took my head off!” – No.10 seed Wozniacki suffered a freak accident on court during her 6-3 6-4 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, catching her braided ponytail in her racket midway through a point.
Stat of the day
53 – US Open match wins for Bob and Mike Bryan, who beat Max Mirnyi and Mikhail Youzhny 6-2 6-3 in their opening match in this year’s doubles draw. The world No.1s are hoping to land their 100th title together in New York – five more wins should do it…