WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Maria Sharapova just wanted it to end.
Raindrops were falling, her opponent was complaining, and Sharapova suddenly encountered some trouble as she tried to close out her third-round match at Wimbledon.
Showers wiped out most action at the All England Club on Saturday, and it was drizzling when 2004 champion Sharapova finally finished her 6-3, 6-3 victory despite the animated protests of No. 26-seeded Ai Sugiyama that it was too slick to play.
“I was starting to get agitated. I saw the rain in the middle of the second set, and I knew, if it keeps going, obviously the grass is going to get wet,” Sharapova said. “I didn’t want it to be too dangerous to play out there. But it worked out well in the end.”
Well, for her, anyway.
There was, not surprisingly, a different take on things from Sugiyama, whose best showing in 15 Wimbledon appearances ended with a loss to Sharapova in the quarterfinals three years ago.
“It was very wet at the end,” Sugiyama said. “Last two games were really slippery.”
In the only other singles match completed, defending champion Amelie Mauresmo beat No. 28 Mara Santangelo of Italy 6-1, 6-2 in 57 minutes to reach the fourth round.
Seven men’s and women’s singles matches were suspended in progress, and seven men’s matches were postponed entirely until Monday – when the forecast calls for more precipitation. The two-week tournament traditionally takes the middle Sunday off, and while rain-created backlogs in the past forced organizers to schedule matches on that day – most recently in 2004 – the referee’s office announced Saturday that wouldn’t be necessary this year, even though five of six days so far have been interrupted.
So three-time champion Venus Williams could have not one but two sleepless nights pondering her second-set struggles against 71st-ranked Akiko Morigami of Japan. Williams won the first set 6-2 but was trailing 1-4 in the next when play was halted. The winner meets Sharapova for a quarterfinal berth.
In other matches carried over to Monday, French Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 11 Nadia Petrova, No. 12 Elena Dementieva and No. 14 Nicole Vaidisova each was up a set.
No. 7 Tomas Berdych took the first set of the only men’s match that got under way. Among those who didn’t play a point in their third-round matches Saturday: three-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and 2002 Wimbledon winner Lleyton Hewitt.
“These kind of days, you don’t (want) to burn too much energy, because you could (be) ready to play at 1 (p.m.), but go on the court at 7 at night,” Mauresmo said. “If you spend the whole day stressed out, thinking, ‘I’m going to go in five minutes,’ this could be a very long day and you could be exhausted in the end.”
While the starts of her match and Sharapova’s were delayed about two hours, and action on smaller courts was pushed back twice as long, rain sent umbrella-toting spectators scurrying to souvenir shops. With no competition, a family of five ducks – a mother and her ducklings – hung out at Court 5 until an animal care organization was summoned to move them to a sanctuary south of London.
Fans were kept abreast of the meteorological outlook by announcements over loudspeakers around the grounds. After one update, the disembodied voice intoned: “We appreciate your patience on this frustrating day.” When play was called off for the day at 6:55 p.m., the voice closed by noting: “Once again, we share your frustration with the British weather.”
Sugiyama was rather disappointed by the way things wrapped up against Sharapova on Court 1.
With Sharapova serving at 5-3, 40-love, she wasted her first match point by double-faulting. Still one point from victory, the reigning U.S. Open champion ended an 11-stroke exchange by hitting a backhand that a line judge called long. Chair umpire Lynn Welch overruled – and a replay showed the ball was clearly in.
“It’s the third call that the guy, you know, got wrong,” Sharapova said. “You look at him, and he’s wearing sunglasses. He loses all credibility at that point.”
Before they replayed the point, Sugiyama complained to Welch that the match should be suspended. Welch climbed down to check the turf, then ordered that they continue.
Eager to finish, Sharapova blew another chance by putting a forehand into the net, but converted her third match point with a forehand that gave her a 30-8 edge in winners. As the tarp was pulled over the court, Sharapova hopped out of harm’s way, and Sugiyama resumed her discussion with Welch.
“It’s her decision,” Sugiyama said later. “I couldn’t really refuse to play.”
Asked to consider what it might have been like to be in Sugiyama’s shoes in that situation, Sharapova replied, “I try not to step in anyone’s shoes, because I’m usually not their size.”
The 6-foot-2 Russian served as well as she has all tournament, reaching 114 mph and winning 34 of 47 points on her serve. It was a strong sign of improvement in her troublesome right shoulder, which needs about 2 hours of treatment each day, including acupuncture, massage and ice.
“You name it, I do it,” Sharapova said.
Mauresmo’s serve was right on target, too: She hit 11 aces. Playing serve-and-volley tennis more than half the time, she won the point on 10 of 11 trips to the net in the first set.
“For me,” Santangelo said, “she and (No. 1 Justine) Henin are the ones who can aim for the title.”