A flustered Maria Sharapova survived a huge scare to advance at the Australian Open on Wednesday with Roger Federer making lighter work of the gruelling Melbourne conditions to keep his Grand Slam dreams alive.
The second seeded Russian had a meltdown as the heat was turned up and had to dig deep to save two match points before staging an epic comeback to beat courageous compatriot Alexandra Panova 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
World number two Federer also had a wobble, dropping the first set before bouncing back to trounce Italian Simone Bolelli 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
British sixth seed Andy Murray had an easier time, cruising into the third round with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 drubbing of local hope Marinko Matosevic.
Other seeds progressing included men’s seventh seed Tomas Berdych, 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov, and women’s 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova.
Third seed Rafael Nadal was in action later Wednesday, with world number ones Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic playing their second round matches on Thursday.
While the searing 42 Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) heat of last year has yet to materialise in Melbourne, temperatures reached 33C and players, including Sharapova and Murray, draped ice towels around their shoulders at the changeovers.
Sharapova, who can unseat Williams as world number one if she wins the title, wilted badly after winning the opening set, firing a slew of unforced errors that almost had her on an early plane home.
“I didn’t actually want to be out here for two-and-a-half hours but that’s sometimes the way it goes on days when you’re not playing your best — sometimes it’s good enough just to get through,” she said.
“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.”
– Out of the blocks –
The five-time Grand Slam champion, red-faced from the heat, trailed 4-1 in the deciding set and looked out for the count, but rallied to save two match points when down 4-5.
Panova, a qualifier, kept pressing but the world number two had the bit between her teeth and used her considerable experience to hang on and set up a third round tie against Kazak Zarina Diyas.
Federer, chasing his fifth Australian Open title, enjoyed slightly cooler, but still humid conditions, later in the day and steadied after losing the first set to sweep past Bolelli, changing tactics to rush the net to great effect.
“Simone played really well in the first set, I wasn’t playing badly, and I had to fight in the middle of the third set and go up a break to enable me to relax a little bit and play a touch better because of less pressure,” Federer said.
“He didn’t have to lose as much as me, I guess sometimes it can be an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage to be favourite.”
Federer, chasing his 18th Grand Slam title, has always made the third round in 16 attempts in Melbourne and has reached the semi-final stage for the last 11 Australian Opens.
Murray, a three-time runner-up, was always in charge against Matosevic, continuing his dominant record against Australians, having now won all 10 previous Tour level meetings with Australian players.
The Scot jumped out of the blocks and wrapped up the opening set in just 21 minutes but had some tighter games in the second and third sets.
He will next face Portugal’s Joao Sousa.
“I started the match extremely well and Marinko was a bit slow at the beginning and he improved as the match went on and there was a lot of tight games in the second and third sets,” said Murray, a two-time Grand Slam champion.