MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Soaked with sweat and clinging desperately for survival, Maria Sharapova was only a point from victory when Australian Open organizers finally decided that the searing heat was extreme enough to suspend matches.
The four-time major winner was serving at 5-4 in the third set, 2 hours and 38 minutes into her second-round match against No. 44-ranked Karin Knapp on Thursday. But the reprieve wouldn't apply to the pair on Rod Laver Arena, because the long-delayed Extreme Heat Policy only kicks in at the end of sets in progress. It took another 50 minutes before Sharapova converted her fourth match point for a grueling 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 win.
The temperature was 39 C (102 F) when Sharapova's match started at just after 11 a.m. local time and increased to almost 43 C (109 F) by the time she finished during the third straight day of a heat wave in sweltering Melbourne. At 3 hours and 28 minutes, 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.
"When you win match point you get off the court, no matter how you feel and how tough it was ... I love these moments."
Caroline Wozniacki followed Sharapova on Rod Laver Arena and, with the roof closed, described the conditions as "pleasant" in her 6-0, 1-6, 6-2 win over Christina McHale. Roger Federer played on the second show court at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade, and raced to a 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 ( 4) win over Blaz Kavcic under the roof at Hisense Arena.
He was playing simultaneously with Rafael Nadal for the first time in years at Melbourne Park. Nadal had no trouble in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Australian wild-card entry Thanasi Kokkinakis under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
The problems with weather didn't end after the temperatures subsided slightly — night play was suspended on more than a dozen courts because of lightning.
Earlier, at the height of the heat, Sharapova 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 earned a crucial break seven games later, but it wasn't a simple matter of serving out.
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