Commentary

Sharapova avoids potential disaster

Russian star plays 23rd three-set match this season to advance in New York

Updated: August 27, 2014, 9:06 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Is it possible that Maria Sharapova actually likes playing three-set matches?

Maybe it's her competitive nature. Or perhaps the sponsors have encouraged her to spend more time in front of the cameras. Whatever the reason, she has played more full-length matches this year than any WTA player. No fewer than 23 of Sharapova's 49 matches have gone the distance.

[+] EnlargeMaria Sharapova
Chris Trotman/Getty Images for USTAMaria Sharapova has a way of making her matches quite interesting -- to say the least.

After creating another potential disaster Wednesday, the No. 5 seed is into the third round after beating Alexandra Dulgheru 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Sharapova, who broke Dulgheru in the first game of the third set, is now 17-6 in three-set matches for the year.

Sharapova won 10 of the final 13 games and will play the winner of No. 26 seed Sabine Lisicki versus Madison Brengle.

"We all started under the sun and we finished under the lights -- that's what you call the US Open," Sharapova said in her on-court interview. "I'm very happy I was able to come back and get through the match."

What about letting all these matches go to the legal limit?

"I've played quite a few this year," she added. "I wish I had finished a few of those in the second set to make my life a little easier."

Sharapova missed the 2013 event with a shoulder injury and is the 2006 US Open champion.

Her significant other, No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov, had a far easier time of it, knocking off American Ryan Harrison 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Incredibly, it was the 23-year-old Bulgarian's first US Open victory -- ever. He was 0-3 coming in. Dimitrov, a semifinalist at Wimbledon, would draw No. 2 seed Roger Federer, the man whose game he chose to emulate, in the quarterfinals.

Harrison, 22, has now lost each and every one of his 21 matches against top-10 players. Only Simone Bolelli (0-31) has a longer string of futility.

American men have fashioned a disappointing 3-9 at this US Open; John Isner, Sam Querrey and Tim Smyczek are the only three through to the second round. It is, if you're scoring at home, the worst performance by U.S. men in the Open era by a wide margin. Never before had they had fewer than seven in the second round.

Wilting in the heat

The temperature hit 90 degrees at the Billie Jean National Tennis Center -- but it felt like 209.

While the WTA has a heat rule -- which was invoked for about three hours Wednesday, allowing players to take a 10-minute break after the second set -- the men have no such policy. Three of them retired amid brutal on-court conditions, running the first-round total to six -- one shy of the all-time record, seven in 2002.

Ivan Dodig checked out 18 minutes into the fifth set, falling to No. 19 seed Feliciano Lopez 1-6, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 1-1. Marcos Baghdatis retired in the second set of a 3-6, 1-3 match with No. 14 seed Marin Cilic. Baghdatis was suffering from what was described as an ankle injury.

American Steve Johnson stepped aside with a two-sets-to-one lead in the fourth set against Tatsuma Ito. The score was 1-4 in the fourth when he retired with severe cramping. He declined the wheelchair when it appeared courtside.

Anderson displays staying power

Meanwhile, No. 18 seed Kevin Anderson showed some cool under pressure, outlasting Pablo Cuevas 3-6, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (1).

Cuevas, the Uruguayan who won two ATP titles earlier this summer, actually served for the 169-minute match at 5-4 in the fifth.

"I'm really excited to get through this match," said Anderson. "This is one of the hottest days of the summer. I was battling from the beginning of the third and I really had to dig into get through."

Anderson gets Jerzy Janowicz, a four-set winner over Dusan Lajovic, in what should be a rousing second-round match. Anderson reached the fourth round of this year's previous three Grand Slams.

Et cetera

New York is an all-or-nothing kind of place, and, similarly, the US Open is the only major to employ the ultimate-set tiebreaker. Kevin Anderson closed out the first one on the men's side this fortnight, winning seven of eight points. No. 18 seed Andrea Petkovic made it a little more interesting against Monica Puig, winning 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) to advance to the third round. Puig was up 4-1 and serving at 40-30 in the third set -- and 5-3 in the tiebreaker before Petkovic won the last four points in the 2-hour, 26-minute contest. Petkovic, who made the semifinals at Roland Garros, now plays 10-seed and 2009 US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, a straight-sets winner over Aliaksandra Sasnovich. ... David Goffin beat the heat, getting past fellow Belgian Niels Desein 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in a tidy 91 minutes. ...No. 9 seed Jelena Jankovic dispatched Tsvetana Pironkova 7-5, 6-4. ... Dominic Thiem, the 20-year-old Austrian, was a straight-sets winner over Lukas Lacko.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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