The third round of the Sony Ericsson Open,which began on Sunday, was memorable not just for the results but also for the intense heat. This forced the players to take advantage of an optional 10-minute interlude prior to the start of a third set. American Ashley Harkleroad had a tough time with Miami’s extreme temperature. During the match, she was constantly seeking the shade between points and went to the side of the court to bend. It is uncertain whether she was suffering from cramps. Nevertheless, Harkleroad was a trooper, pushing the match to a third set after being down a break in the second, but Elena Vesnina prevailed (4-6, 7-5, 4-6). For Amelie Mauresmo seeded 24, her greatest liability was not the heat, but rather her mental fragility. While serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, the 2006 Australian and Wimbledon champion was broken and went on to lose the set. Prolonging her agony into a third with a seesaw of breaks, Mauresmo was serving to level the set at 5 all. After being up 30-0, Mauresmo produced a combination of double faults and unforced errors handing her opponent, Jie Zheng of China, the past to the next round (7-5, 4-, 4-6). A duplicate story unfolded on the adjacent court with Ai Sugiyama of Japan and Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia with the variation being the latter having to push the match to a third set by winning a difficult second set tiebreak. After squandering a two break lead in the decisive set, in the 12th game, Hantuchova down 0-40 due to double faults and errors, inched back to 30-40 but hit the subsequent rally into the net to end the match.
An unforeseen occurrence was the ease with which multiple major holder, Lindsay Davenport seeded 32, disposed of the world’s second ranked player and last week Pacific Life Open champion Ana Ivanovic (6-4, 6-2). Also, Anna Chakvetadze, seeded 5, was pummeled by German wildcard Sabine Lisicki (5-7, 1-6). A third round marquee match on the men’s side featured James Blake against Fabrice Santoro who is always a tricky opponent. Santoro, the magician as he has been nicknamed, despite all his tricks, could not conjure up an illusion to conquer Blake’s powerful forehand. Although he required three sets, Blake was able to move on (6-3, 6-7,6-4). Rafael Nadal, Blake’s potential rival in the quarterfinals, waited out a rain delay mid match before finishing off Nicolas Keifer (6-2,6-4). Of note, although former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten (Guga) was ousted in the first round, he and partner Nicolas Lapenti are in the second round of the men’s doubles. This may be the last chance to see Guga in action, he is retiring. The doubles number one seed on both the women’s and men’s side, respectively, Huber/Black and the Bryan Brothers, are through after their first round wins.
In the next few days, some exciting competition will be on tap with the projected clash between Henin and Serena in the quarterfinals and a semifinal collision between either Serena and Venus or Venus and Henin. Both Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova have had their share of rough patches, but they are still alive, therefore, contenders. With Davenport doing so well, she may be heading for a showdown with either Henin or the Williams sisters in the finals; that would be a treat indeed. On the men’s side, Roger Federer is on course to crash with Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. Skipping a few days ahead, Nadal and Federer may possibly meet in the finals. With the latter two hungry for their first titles in 2008, the excitement is palpable. I can’t wait for next week to start.