By Fernie Ruano Jr.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Lleyton Hewitt and World No. 5 Angelique Kerber endured grueling three-set matches that highlighted Thursday’s early schedule at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis.
The wily Australian showed his characteristic grit after dropping the first set as he rallied to beat Robin Hasse 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. In the process, Hewitt notched his 600th career win, becoming just the third active player to reach the feat, joining Roger Federer (940) and Rafael Nadal (675). Hewitt delighted the Stadium Court crowd who rallied behind the 33-year-old and cheered after a forehand lob handed the Australian the first round victory.
Hewitt’s comeback victory sets up a mouthwatering clash between two baseline warriors as he will take on No. 1 ranked Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
By the time Kerber pounded her chest and let out a hearty yell on Stadium Court the 26-year-old had secured a spot into the third round after outlasting China’s Shuai Peng 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (5).
“It was an up and down match for me,” said the fifth-seeded, WTA No.9 Kerber, who needed a memorable third set rally, not to mention 123 minutes and every ounce of energy, to outlast her opponent. “I was just trying to keep fighting until the last point, which was the difference.”
Down 3-1 in the third set after Peng broke her serve in the third game and blasted four straight winners, including a first serve winner to close the game, Kerber kept her nerve.“I was just thinking about what I could do at that moment (to get back in the match), but no, I didn’t think I was out of (the) match,” said Kerber, making her fifth main draw appearance in Key Biscayne.
Peng, who entered the tournament with 11 victories vs. Top 10 opponents, forced deuce with an overhand winner and held serve with the help of a Kerber unforced error to take a commanding 4-1 lead, and followed it up by winning four of five points in the seventh game to take a seemingly safe 5-2 advantage. “I felt really good about my position (in the third set),” said Shuai. “She was a little better today.”
But Kerber, the highest ranked of seven Germans in the Top 100, stormed right back by winning four of the next five points to hold, including a service winner to wrap the eighth game – and she wasn’t done.
Kerber held serve to knot the match at 5-5. In a key moment in the match, Peng brought Kerber to the net only to lob an overhand over her head, which stayed just inside the baseline. Kerber held serve to extend the match into a tiebreaker.
“I think I was there at the end of the match, and I was there at the end of the match, you know,” said Kerber. “I was just trying to move good at the end and hit the balls over the net and when I had the chances to go for it.”
American phenom Jack Sock dispatched of wild card Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4 to advance to a third round match against No. 12 seed Milos Raonic. The 21-year-old Sock, a qualifier, has won four straight sets in Key Biscayne.
Wild card Ryan Harrison defeated Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-2, 6-4 in one of the most anticipated tilts of the afternoon session. Making his fifth appearance in the tournament, Harrison, 21, notched his second career victory in Key Biscayne two years after upending Polito Starace in a first-rounder.
Delbonis , bidding for his first hard court win of the season, was making his Sony Open Tennis debut.
In other women’s second round results: No. 12 seed Ana Ivanovic defeated Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-1, while Australian No.16 Samantha Stosur eliminated qualifier Kiki Bertens 6-3, 6-2.
Croatian qualifier Donna Vekic upset No. 28 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6(5), 7-5.