INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA: Second seed Maria Sharapova and defending champ Novak Djokovic eased through third round Indian Wells matchups but fourth seeded Caroline Wozniacki bit the dust in the California desert on Monday.
Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova needed six match points to grind out a 6-4, 6-3 win over Victoria Azarenka in a rare early round marquee matchup.
Djokovic also had to fend off a spirited opponent Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a centre court night match but eventually prevailed 7-5, 6-3 to reach the round of 16.
“I managed to play the right shots at the right time and in the important moments to sneak through in straight sets,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic moves through to the round of 16 where he will face the hard-hitting American John Isner, who beat Djokovic in the semi-finals of the 2012 Indian Wells tournament. They have met seven times with Djokovic winning five.
“He is one of the best servers in the history of the game,” Djokovic said of Isner. “He’s six-foot-10 so he can hit any angle. I am expecting a tough match.”
Like Djokovic, Sharapova had to figure out a way win when she wasn’t at her best.
The 27-year old Russian appeared to be ready to close out her third round match in the eighth game of the second set but two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka decided she wasn’t going down without a fight.
Azarenka saved four match points in the eighth game of the final set and another in the ninth before finally succumbing on a Sharapova cross-court backhand that she clobbered into the net.
“She played right to the last point,” Sharapova said of Azarenka.
Sharapova moves through to the round of 16 where she will square off against defending women’s champ Flavia Pennetta of Italy.
Plucky Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic pulled off the biggest win of her young career with the straight set upset of fourth seeded Wozniacki of Denmark 6-4, 6-4.
The 18-year-old Bencic had never beaten a top-five player before.
“I am very happy. I’m really excited,” Bencic said. “I always watched her on TV when I was a small girl. She was my idol and a role model for me.”
Wozniacki, a former Indian Wells champion, appeared to have her game in order coming into Indian Wells as she won her 23rd career singles title just two weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur.
In other maches Monday, Andy Murray, who is trying to become Britain’s most winningest player ever, defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
The two-time Grand Slam winner Murray clinched the victory on his first match point when the German hit a forehand wide.
“He played better in the second set and I felt like I served better in the third set. I did well at the end to keep it going,” Murray said.
Murray now has 495 wins and is just two shy of passing Tim Henman for the most career singles wins in the Open Era. He also needs just five more victories to join the 500 wins club.
Murray opened his season by reaching the Australian Open final where he lost to Djokovic.
World number five Kei Nishikori rallied to beat Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in a scrappy match that went three sets.
Japan’s Nishikori beat the Spaniard 6-7 (6/8), 6-1, 6-4 to move through to the fourth round.
Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, who is looking to regain her form after missing some time on the WTA Tour with an arm injury, cruised past CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-2. (AFP)