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Saturday Night Recap: Rafa, Maria Power Through

03.22.2014

By Mario Sarmento

Playing a game as bright as the fluorescent orange shoes he wore on the court, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal beat Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-3 in a men’s second-round match on Stadium Court Saturday night at the Sony Open Tennis tournament. Mixing power and precision, Nadal hit 11 winners in a 24-minute first set that saw him dominate from start to finish, starting with a break in Hewitt’s opening service game to take a 1-0 lead. “For me, to be back after two years, it’s a great way to be back,” Nadal said.

The three-time Sony Open finalist won a whopping 80 percent of his first-serve points, and was even more impressive on his second serve, winning at an 88 percent clip. After the match, he took off his shirt, and threw it and the rest of the ones in his bag to the adoring crowd in the stands. Nadal will face Denis Istomin, a 6-7(8), 6-0, 6-3 winner over Dmitry Tursunov earlier in the day, in the third round.

Maria Sharapova has always exuded a stylish beauty, but beneath the gloss and glamour beats the heart of a fighter. Sharapova showed that fighting spirit by gutting out a 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-2 win over a game No. 26 seed Lucie Safarova Saturday night on Stadium Court in the women’s third round.

After battling back from a 4-1 second-set deficit, only to fall in the tiebreak, Sharapova started fast in the third set, breaking Safarova in the first game, and rolling to a 5-2 lead. The final game was an epic back-and-forth affair that had fans standing to applaud after every point. Finally, on her sixth match point, Sharapova vanquished Safarova on a great get that the Czech player promptly dumped into the net to end matters.

“She just kept hitting good shots,” Sharapova said. “I’m just so happy I was able to pull it out.” The five-time Sony Open finalist takes on Kirsten Flipkens in the fourth round.

In men’s second round action earlier in the afternoon, No. 12 seed Milos Raonic swept American Jack Sock 6-4, 7-6 (1); Benjamin Becker held off American Ryan Harrison 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (2); and Aljaz Bedene rallied to beat Vasek Pospisil 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3.

In men’s doubles, the No. 1-seeded Bryan brothers beat Great Britain’s Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins in their Sony Open debut, 6-4, 6-4.