With the sun setting at the end of a torridly hot day at the Australian Open, Roger Federer ensured he made the most of a favourable evening draw, advancing to the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Russian Nikolay Davydenko on Thursday.
The 17-Grand Slam champion was a winner of sorts before he even stepped out at Rod Laver Arena, having received the luck of the draw - a 7 p.m. start time after the worst of the 100 Fahrenheit heat had subsided.
"I'm very happy to have played so well against him,'' Federer said of his 18th win over Davydenko in their 20 matches.
Other championship contenders in the men's and women's draws, including Andy Murray, Serena Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka, had to withstand the high temperatures which aren't unusual for this time of year in Melbourne, but still not conducive to long matches.
A dancing Azarenka and an ankle-weary Williams played back-to-back matches, both easy straight-set victories. US Open champion Murray also won routinely, beating Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 on Hisense Arena, the second show court at Melbourne Park.
"You need to be the one that's trying to dictate the points in these conditions,'' said Murray, who practices in Florida.
"Miami is the perfect preparation. It's hot and humid there, although it certainly doesn't get up to 37 degrees (Celsius; 99 Fahrenheit). It was a good match to get done in straight sets. ``
Despite the high temperatures, tournament officials left the retractable roofs on both main arenas open because a combination of factors including humidity and court temperature didn't warrant making the venues a temporary indoor haven from the heat.
Ice vests and towels helped players keep their cool, and a women's tour rule allowing a 10-minute break between sets was invoked late in the day, tournament director Craig Tiley said.
"It's always the referee's discretion, but the lack of humidity helped us today,'' Tiley said.
Australia sweltered through a week of record high average temperatures earlier this month, but the first three days of the Open were relatively mild.
Williams went into Thursday's match with an injured right ankle. She didn't seem troubled by the injury, but did finish with a swollen lip after hitting herself with her racket.
"It's OK,'' she said.
"It's a war wound. I think it happens to everyone, but I have never busted it wide open like that. I was like, 'Oh, no. I can't have a tooth fall out.' That would be horrible.''
Williams lifted her tempo on the biggest points, including when she finally won an 18-minute game to open the second set en route to a 6-2, 6-0 win over Garbine Muguruza.
|Another easy game for the in-form Serena Williams who cruised past Spain's Garbine Muguruza [Reuters]
"Usually I feel injuries after the match but, so far, so good. I felt pretty much better than I ever dreamed of expecting to feel,'' Williams said of her ankle.
She later combined with sister Venus to win in the first round of doubles, showing no signs of trouble with the ankle.
The top-ranked Azarenka pranced into Rod Laver Arena for the first match of the day, and said she's starting to find some rhythm after beating Eleni Daniilidou 6-1, 6-0 in 55 minutes.
"I felt like I'm back into the competitive mode,'' Azarenka said.
The No. 94-ranked Daniilidou only won 10 points in the first set and was shut out in the second despite having triple break point in the fourth game.
Azarenka had her friend and musician RedFoo in the stands watching and signing autographs, and said she went onto the court listening to a "great mix of disco music and a little bit of new music.''
The heat didn't seem to bother 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, who advanced 6-2, 7-5 over Shahar Peer of Israel. She's the oldest woman to win a singles match at the Australian Open.
Other women advancing included former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, No. 16 Roberta Vinci, No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer and Elena Vesnina, who beat No. 21-seeded Varvara Lepchenko of the United States 6-4, 6-2.
Former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova beat 26th-seeded Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan 6-2, 6-1.
Murray, who ended a 76-year drought by British men in Grand Slam tournaments with his win at Flushing Meadows last year, didn't allow Sousa a single break-point chance.
"When the sun came out, it was extremely hot. When it wasn't, it was fine. There was no humidity,'' he said, playing down the impact of the hot conditions.
"When you get the combination of the heat and the humidity is when it's normally at its worst. I've played in worse conditions.''
Among the other men advancing were sixth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Benjamin Becker 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, and 2008 Australian finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who pretended to do pushups to disguise a fall during his 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3 win over Japan's Go Soeda.
Australia's Bernard Tomic went through to the third round along with No. 9 Richard Gasquet, No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 17 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, No. 21 Andreas Seppi of Italy and Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis, who beat No. 25 Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.
Tomic beat Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup and won last week's Sydney International, his first ATP tournament victory. He has won 10 matches in a row and has held 76 consecutive service games through that stretch.
He'll face Federer in the third round on Sunday, a rematch of their fourth-round match last year.
"We'll know each other a bit better this time around,'' said Federer, who had two lopsided wins over Tomic in 2012.
Gael Monfils improbably advanced to the third round with a five-set win over Taiwan's Lu Yen-hsun despite the Frenchman having 23 double faults, including three on match point. Fortunately, Monfils also had 29 aces in the 7-6 (5), 4-6, 0-6, 6-1, 8-6 win.
Djokovic, attempting to win his third Australian Open in a row, plays his third-round match on Friday against Radek Stepanek, while the featured women's match will be second-seeded Maria Sharapova's eighth career meeting with Venus Williams.
Sharapova holds a 4-3 edge, although Venus has won both times they've met in Grand Slams - at Wimbledon.