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Nadal, Sharapova escape at Australian Open


AP

Nadal, Sharapova escape at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – An agitated Roger Federer spat out the question that Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova easily could have asked the players who pushed them to the limits in the second round of the Australian Open.

“Do you have to be that close?” Federer snapped at a TV cameraman hovering nearby as he received medical advice after losing a set on Wednesday.

For Nadal and Sharapova, the nuisance was coming from the lowly-ranked qualifiers across the net.

Nadal was taken to five agonizing sets by No. 112-ranked Tim Smyczek, who even did him a sporting favour in the last game of a four-hour, 12-minute night match. Sharapova needed to save two match points before prevailing 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 over fellow Russian Alexandra Panova, ranked No. 150.

After his 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-5 win, Nadal dropped to his knees on the court, clasping his hands in a prayer-like pose.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion has played some epic matches on Rod Laver Arena, including the five-hour, 53-minute final he lost to Novak Djokovic in 2012, his championship win against Federer in 2009 and a myriad of painful encounters over the years.

The third-seeded Nadal came into the first major of the season after playing just four tournaments since Wimbledon because of a right wrist injury and appendix surgery. Midway through the third set Wednesday, he needed medication for stomach cramps.

Nadal made uncharacteristic errors and had seven double-faults, including one when he faced break point while serving for the third set.

Smyczek was competing shot-for-shot, belying his experience of just eight Grand Slam tournaments and no previous wins against a top 10 opponent. He twice led by a set.

But Nadal, who at times was doubled over in pain and resting his hands and head on his racket, hung on until he broke Smyczek’s serve in the 11th game of the fifth set.

When a spectator screamed out as Nadal tossed the ball for his serve at 30-0 in the last game, Smyczek insisted the Spaniard replay the serve – a gesture later acknowledged with high praise. Nadal won the replayed point, earning triple match point. Smyczek saved those three, but couldn’t break after taking the game to deuce.

Federer was troubled by a sore right pinkie finger, an injury he couldn’t diagnose or explain, but rallied to beat Simone Bolelli 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the third round along with three-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray, No. 7 Tomas Berdych and No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov.

“It felt like a bee stung me. I was like, ‘This can’t be possible – I never had this pain before’. It was disturbing me,” Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, said. “I knew that to tape it wasn’t an option.”

Seven of the men’s seeded players lost, with 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis beating No. 20 David Goffin and Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios – who was a wild card ranked No. 144 when he beat Nadal in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year – defeating No. 23 Ivo Karlovic in a four sets.

Sharapova made 51 unforced errors but kept swinging right to the end and is the only Grand Slam winner in her half of the draw. She next plays No. 31 Zarina Diyas.

Seventh-seeded Eugenie Bouchard, who reached the semi-finals or better at three of the four majors in 2014, needed just 54 minutes to beat Kiki Bertens 6-0, 6-3 and is the biggest threat to Sharapova in the bottom half of the draw.

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