MELBOURNE, Australia – Maria Sharapova toiled in 109-degree temperatures for more than 3˝ hours on Rod Laver Arena, and could count herself among the unlucky early starters at the oppressively hot Australian Open on Thursday.
After organizers 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 4.
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.
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."
In the biggest upset so far at the tournament, No. 5-seeded Juan Martin del Potro ended a long day at Melbourne Park by losing his second-round match 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut. The 3-hour, 53-minute match finished at 1:20 a.m. Friday, more than 14 hours after play began on Day 4.
Earlier, organizers 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 4 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 102 when Sharapova's match against No. 44-ranked Karin Knapp started. The temps increased before 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˝ hours.
"I went really further than my limits. It was really hot, that's why I'm so emotional," Cornet said of the conditions.
Day 4 - Top Seeds
MenNo. 1 Rafael Nadal def. Thanasi Kokkinakis
No. 4 Andy Murray def. Vincent Millot
No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro lost to Roberto Bautista
No. 6. Roger Federer def. Blaz Kavcic
No. 2 Victoria Azarenka def. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova
No. 3 Maria Sharapova def. Karin Knapp
No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska def. Olga Govortsova