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Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova work overtime for hard-fought wins at Sony Open

Spaniards are known to dine and party late into the night, but top-ranked Rafael Nadal surely didn’t plan to wait until 10:30 p.m. Saturday to play the first point of his opening Sony Open match.

Two of the marquee women’s matches went longer than expected, delaying the start of Nadal’s match against former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. Nadal made sure they didn’t stay on the court long, finishing off Hewitt 6-1, 6-3 in just over an hour, with time to spare to make a midnight dinner reservation.

In the previous Stadium Court match, Maria Sharapova and Lucie Safarova slugged it out for just short of three hours before Sharapova finally converted her ninth match point to put away the tenacious Czech 6-4, 6-7 (7-9), 6-2. When Safarova’s last shot fell into the net, the standing-room-only crowd roared.

“I had so many opportunities, but she kept hitting unbelievable shots,” a sweat-drenched Sharapova said after the match. “It was like one more, one more. I said, ‘How many chances are you going to get?’ ”

They played 228 total points. Sharapova’s first match point came at the two-hour mark. It took her 55 minutes to close it out, and the day session ticket holders finally went home as another full house filed in at 10:15 p.m. for the two late-night matches.

The women’s match between Samantha Stosur and Coco Vandeweghe was scheduled to follow Nadal-Hewitt, meaning it would likely start after midnight.

Earlier in the afternoon, defending champion Serena Williams survived a heck of a scare and eliminated Caroline Garcia of France 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in a rain-interrupted match that lasted 2 1/2 hours.

Garcia is 20 years old and ranked No. 74 in the world, but she is gutsy, has a blistering forehand and a powerful serve that belies her slender build.

Diehard fans may remember her from the 2011 French Open, when as a 17-year-old wild card she took a 6-3, 4-1 lead over Sharapova.

That day, Andy Murray tweeted: “The girl Sharapova is playing is going to be No. 1 in the world one day. Caroline Garcia, what a player. U heard it here first.”

Sharapova regrouped, won 11 consecutive games and won that match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. But the tennis world had been put on notice: Garcia was a name to watch in the future.

“Everyone was talking to me about this [back on that day], not my match or how I played,” Garcia recalled. “Just, ‘Murray says you will be No. 1.’ And I was like 150 in the world, so it was not easy when you’re 17 years old and you are like nowhere and someone says you will be No. 1.

“But I’m happy he said it because he knows tennis a lot, so it was good motivation for me.”

Garcia, whose father is Spanish and mother is French, went for broke against 17-time Grand Slam winner Williams on Saturday afternoon.

“It was my third time, so maybe she was a little bit smaller than the previous one,” she said, smiling. “But no, I just try to forget it’s Serena Williams, to forget that she won how many Grand Slams, and just be me and just play.”

Williams conceded that Garcia is “obviously a really good player,” but blamed her own mistakes — 41 unforced errors and seven double faults — for the slim margin of victory.

“I really gave myself a tremendous amount of trouble out there,” Williams replied, when asked what about Garcia’s game gave her trouble. “I think, granted, she played great, but I made so many errors. … Obviously, I wasn’t at my best. I had 40-something errors.

“It’s not the way to play professional tennis. Maybe amateur. I can play a hundred times better.”

Williams was in no mood to chat following the match. Her news conference lasted 2 1/2 minutes. After four questions, the moderator asked if there were any more questions, and Williams jumped in and said: “No? Please. Great. Yay.’’

Joining Williams and Sharapova in the fourth round are No. 5 Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Ekaterina Makarova, Kristen Flipkens and former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.

Flipkens advanced by walkover after the withdrawal of Sabine Lisicki (flu). Ivanovic beat Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-3.

On the men’s side, three-time champion Novak Djokovic was off Saturday but advanced to the fourth round when his Sunday opponent, Florian Mayer, withdrew because of a groin injury.

Djokovic’s next match will be Tuesday.

Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the third round and improve his season record to 14-1.

John Isner, back in the top 10 this week for the first time in more than a year, won an all-American matchup against Donald Young 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-4. Ryan Harrison, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock all lost, leaving Isner as the only American still standing in the men’s draw.

Among the other men advancing to the third round were No. 7 Tomas Berdych, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Milos Raonic (who beat Sock), Nicolas Almagro (who beat Querrey), Benjamin Becker (who beat Harrison) and Alexandr Dogolpolov.

This story was originally published March 23, 2014 12:01 AM.

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