MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray rose victorious from one of the Australian Open’s most chaotic days yesterday when a rare extreme heat shutdown and then a surprise rainstorm threw the tournament into disarray.
After temperatures reaching 43.4 Celsius (110.1 Fahrenheit) forced organisers to take the rare step of suspending play on outside courts and closing the stadium roofs, the big trio were able to play in air-conditioned comfort.
So just hours after Maria Sharapova slogged through three sets in brutal heat on an open Rod Laver Arena, Spain’s Nadal stepped up with the roof closed to blitz world number 570 Thanasi Kokkinakis in less than two hours.
Federer, playing with Hisense Arena closed to the elements, produced a classic display as he took apart Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic in front of enraptured Melbourne crowd to reach the third round.
And Murray later took apart France’s Vincent Millot, including a memorable fightback from 5-1 down in the final set, to show he remains a force to be reckoned with after back surgery.
They were three of the big winners after the four-hour heat shutdown, the first in five years, forced a hasty revision of the schedule with several matches extending past midnight. Just as players were returning to court, a freak rain and lightning storm erupted over Melbourne Park, further delaying the action.
Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki were also glad to reach round three on a topsy-turvy day, with more in prospect today when temperatures are forecast to hit 44 Celsius.
Following days of players fainting, vomiting and complaining bitterly about the heat, a suspension was finally announced at 2:00 pm.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori was one of the early players but he dispatched Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (7/3) to escape the heat in straight sets.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made tough going of his first set against Brazil’s Thomaz Belluci, played in the blazing sun, but he steamed through the rest of the match after the Hisense Arena roof rolled shut.
World number three Sharapova was not so lucky after the suspension was announced during her third set against Italy’s Karin Knapp, meaning she could not leave the court until the match was over.
The set went to 10-8, lasting nearly two hours, before the Russian won 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.
Top seed Nadal admitted he was “very glad” to play under the stadium roof after his campaign accelerated with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory against willing but outgunned local hope Kokkinakis.
A serve-volleying Federer showed distinct shades of his new coach, Stefan Edberg, as he overwhelmed Kavcic 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7/4) win in one hour 47 minutes.
“It would be nice if I can take soLater Murray, last up on Rod Laver Arena, stormed through the first two sets but encountered stiff resistance from Millot in the third. However, he reeled off 23 consecutive points to snatch victory from the stunned Frenchman.
Defending women’s champion Azarenka, also playing under the centre court roof, crushed Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-1, 6-4 in 88 minutes.
And 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki, newly engaged to golfer Rory McIlroy, said she had belief she could finally win her first major title after a 6-0, 1-6, 6-2 win over America’s Christina McHale.
Polish fifth seed Agnimeszka Radwanska was another of the senior women’s players to go through, beating Olga Govortsova 6-0, 7-5.
The day’s biggest casualty was former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, the fifth seed, who was sent crashing by Spain’s 62nd-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut.AFP