Fernie Ruano, Jr.
Friday afternoon rush hour in Key Biscayne can be a bit testy for anybody behind the wheel – especially with an afternoon session crowd of more than 17,000 crammed into Stadium Court at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis in the Crandon Park Tennis Center.
But leave it to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to make it a smooth ride with straight-set victories during their opening matches at the Sony Open. Federer and Djokovic made impressive starts to their campaigns with back-to-back victories as the all-time Grand Slam leader overcame big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6(4), while three-time champ and No. 2 seed swept past France's Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 6-3.
Backed by the kind of lively support he’s become accustomed to whenever the two-time Key Biscayne Sony victor shows up on the purple courts, the fifth-seeded Federer worked the magic of a wily veteran in disposing of Karlovic in 75 minutes. “It definitely relaxed me to do it in (straight sets),” he said.
Djokovic needed less than an hour to finish off Chardy, setting himself up for a fourth round match against No.30 seed Florian Mayer, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Croatian Ivan Dodig. A potential quarterfinal match against No. 16 Tommy Robredo, who beat Austria’s Dominic Thiem 6-4, 7-6(8), awaits should Robredo and Djokovic win their next matches.
Friday's early action came fast and furious with numerous big names on the Stadium Court, as well as the outside courts. One of last year’s finalists, Spain’s David Ferrer, took the Grandstand Court early and dispatched of Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-4, 6-0. The No. 4 seed showed his familiar tenaciousness in the South Florida sunshine during a hard fought first set before rolling in the second. No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet fought past Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia 7-6(7), 6-4, and the Frenchman will take on South African Kevin Anderson, the No. 17 seed, who made fairly routing work of Argentine Horacio Zeballos with a 6-4, 6-4 win.
On the woman's side, the play was just as intense. In the biggest upset of the tournament so far, No. 7 seed Jelena Jankovic lost to American Varvara Lepchenko in three-grueling sets, including a third set tie-breaker 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(2). Italian Roberta Vinci, the No. 13 seed played the first match of the day on the Stadium Court but lost to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
Also on the women’s side, 10th seeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, who made the Australian Open final, made quick work of Yvonne Meusberger of Austria, 6-1, 6-2. Elena Vesnina of Russia rolled past American Alison Riske 6-2,6-2; Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina upset 18th seed Eugenia Bouchard of Canada; and France’s Alize Cornet beat Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 6-7(0), 6-4. Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia defeated Spain’s Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-1.
Martina Hingis, two-time Sony Open singles champ (1997 and 2000), teamed with doubles partners Sabine Lisicki to beat Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova, 6-1, 6-4. American Christina McHale fell just short in two tie breaks to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 7-6(5), 7-6(0), while another American, Madison Keys, beat Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 6-2.
At Crandon Park, Federer is attempting to win his third Sony Open title after not playing last year in Key Biscayne. “I’ve been coming here since 1995; I miss one year and now I feel guilty but it’s great to be back.”
In the midst of an impressive career renaissance, including a runner-up effort in Indian Wells, Federer, who earlier this week joined Stanilas Wawrinka as one of two Top -5 Swiss players in the world rankings since 1973, wrapped the first set in 30 minutes, pulling out one of his artistic forehands for a winner, his fourth straight point, to hold and jump out in front.
The unseeded Karlovic withstood a beautiful short volley by Federer in the fifth game of the second set before hitting two winners to hold serve and take a 3-2 advantage. With the roar of the pro-Federer crowd echoing off of Biscayne Bay and the all-timer down a game, Federer placed a forehand just inside the baseline to go up 30-15 and lobbed a winner seconds later to hold and knot it back at 4-4. Federer responded again in the 12th game of the set with four straight points, including an unforced error by Karlovic, to force a tiebreaker.Federer took a 2-0 lead on another unforced error before closing out the match.