Nadal and Sharapova stage great escapes
MARIA Sharapova and Rafael Nadal both scraped into the third round of the Australian Open by the skin of their teeth yesterday.
Sharapova staged an epic comeback in the Melbourne Park heat, after Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova pushed her to the brink of a humiliating, second-round exit.
The five-time Grand Slam champion saved two match points and had to draw on all her big-match experience to eventually down an opponent ranked No. 150 in the world 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 after 2hr 46min.
It was the same story for world No. 3 Nadal, who battled through illness and poor timing on his groundstrokes before ekeing out a 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 7-5 victory over American qualifier Tim Smyzcek.
Nadal appeared to be affected by something in the second set as he sweated profusely and took his time between changeovers, before calling for a doctor early in the third set. Television microphones picked up the fact that he had an upset stomach.
Smyzcek cantered through the third-set tie-break before Nadal, who had reportedly been bitten under the eye by a mosquito while practising ahead of the match, established a 5-2 lead in the fourth set and sent it into a decider.
The fifth set went on serve until the Spanish 14-time Grand Slam champion finally broke the resistance of Smyzcek, whose scrambling game resembles that of former top-five player David Ferrer, in the 11th game before wrapping up the win on his fourth match.
Sharapova was left struggling for positives after her unknown compatriot left her red-faced and flustered in a centre court match that she had been expected to breeze through.
"I was one point away from being out of this tournament twice today and not playing my best tennis, so I'm just happy I was able to win that last point," Sharapova said.
"I pulled through, I guess at this point, that's what matters. Certainly it gives me a lot of confidence that I didn't play my best and was able to come through. Sometimes that's good."
The 27-year-old won the Australian Open in 2008 but has a history of struggling in the heat in Melbourne, particularly during the early rounds, including a first-round exit in 2010.
She praised Panova, who has failed to qualify for the Open main draw on five previous occasions, for being "inspired" and unafraid to play her shots.
Former world No. 1 Roger Federer was also forced to dig deep against an unheralded player, winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 over Italian journeyman Simone Bolelli.
The Swiss suffered a mysterious affliction on his right hand during the match, for which he also sought treatment from the doctor.
He said it did not look like a blister and he thought he might have been stung by a bee.
"I don't know what that thing is," the 17-time Grand Slam winner told reporters in a media conference while staring intently at the tips of his fingers.
"It's the weirdest thing. I feel it on the tip of my finger. Just felt really odd starting after the break, and for three, four games, it was the funniest feeling I have.
"I feel like it's numb and swollen. Actually it went away, but now I feel it again. I don't know what the feeling is."
He declined to have the finger taped by medical staff because it would have just looked "bigger and weird".
"You can't see anything," he said, laughing while staring intently at his hand. "But it is definitely swollen and it's funny. I don't know what it is. As long as it's not getting bad, it's okay."