By Randy Walker
Same tournament. Same court. Same brutally hot conditions. Same gritty victory.
A resolute Maria Sharapova preserved in scalding hot temperatures on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open Thursday, advancing into the third round with a 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 win over Karin Knapp of Italy in 3 hours, 28 minutes.
The win in the 108 degree temperatures was eerily familiar to a match win for Sharapova seven years ago to the day, ironically.
On January 16, 2007, as the No. 1 seed at the Australian Open, Sharapova failed to close out Camille Pin, ranked No. 62, on a 102-degree day on Rod Laver Arena in the first round. As documented in the book and mobile app THIS DAY IN TENNIS (www.TennisHistoryApp.com), Sharapova led 5-0 in the final set before holding on for the 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 win.
Against Knapp, Sharapova served for the match at 5-4 in the final set and held double-match point at 40-15 before the Italian painted the lines with two groundstrokes to stay in the match, and, saved a third match point before breaking Sharapova for 5-5, clinching the game on a let-cord winner off of a return of serve.
It was at this time that the sizzling weather conditions prompted the Australian Open officials to institute its extreme heat policy, suspending all matches on all of the outer courts, except for play on the stadium courts.
Sharapova finally broke Knapp’s serve in the 17th game of the final set and endured three double-faults in the next game, and painted the line with a backhand winner when down break point, before holding on for the victory.
The 10-8 final set became the longest set in games played in Sharapova’s career to date.
Sharapova was reminded of her win over Pin in her post-match on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs, saying, “I remember feeling being pretty close to passing out.”
Sharapova is playing her second tournament back from a right shoulder injury sustained after Wimbledon. It was actually one year ago when Sharapova was playing some of the best tennis of her career, beginning the 2013 Australian Open winning her first two matches 6-0, 6-0, also achieved on this exact date. On January 16, 2013, also as documented on the THIS DAY IN TENNIS app, Sharapova reached the third round of the Australian Open without the loss of a game, registering a 47-minute 6-0, 6-0 white-wash of Misaki Doi of Japan in the second round. It repeated the scoreline she parlayed against Olga Puchkova in the first round. Sharapova became the first women to win successive ‘double-bagels’ at a major tournament since Wendy Turnbull at the 1985 Australian Open. Said Sharapova of the distinctive stat, “It’s not really the statistic I want to be known for. I want to be known for winning Grand Slam titles, not that I won two matches 6-0, 6-0.”