Wawrinka drops Madrid opener to Thiem; Sharapova survives
MADRID -- Austrian qualifier Dominic Thiem scored the biggest victory of his young career on Tuesday when he rallied for a 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over third-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka at the Madrid Open.
The 20-year-old Thiem showed composure beyond his years in knocking the Australian Open champion out of the clay court event to reach the third round.
Thiem called on a thunderous array of baseline strokes and soft net touches to oust the third-seeded Wawrinka, who reached the final at Madrid's Magic Box tennis center last year.
Thiem looked out of his depth as he struggled to find his rhythm early on Manolo Santana center court.
"I didn't have many matches against these top guys, so I wasn't really used to his pace. He had an unbelievable start and I didn't really know what happened," the 70th-ranked Thiem said. "I started to get used to more and more his pace and angles and his game. I played unbelievable the second and the third set."
Wawrinka may have dropped his guard after the easy opening as Thiem pulled even after bombarding his opponent with powerful backhanders.
Wawrinka, coming off a clay court win in Monte Carlo, gathered himself for the final set -- with both players holding serve until the 10th game when Thiem slapped another strong backhand across Wawrinka and down the line for 30-15. A gentle drop shot from Thiem following a long rally of groundstrokes set up match point on Wawrinka's serve.
"I was in this famous `zone' during the match. I was really unbelievable concentrated," said Thiem, who scored his first victory over a top-10 player on his third attempt.
Thiem converted his third break point to win the match as Wawrinka sent his crosscourt backhand wide.
"I had some chance in the third set (and) I should have played better when I had some opportunity," said Wawrinka, who slipped to his fourth defeat of 2014. "But I was hesitating with my game and he went for it and deserved it."
Wawrinka wasn't the only Swiss player to exit the tournament on Tuesday.
Roger Federer pulled out due to the birth of his second set of twins, this time boys -- named Leo and Lenny.
The exit of Wawrinka plus the withdrawals of Federer and second-ranked Novak Djokovic -- to injury -- give defending champion Rafael Nadal the perfect opportunity to rebound from his worst clay court run in a decade. The top-ranked Spaniard opens on Wednesday against Juan Monaco of Argentina.
The Spanish capital's elevated altitude proved to be a problem for fifth-ranked David Ferrer, who needed almost three hours to dispatch Spanish countryman Albert Ramos 7-6 (6), 5-7, 6-3.
Ferrer appeared frustrated for much of his match, mumbling to himself and his entourage nearby before eventually coming through to win.
"You say things when you're nervous in the match that you don't have a feel for. You can write a book about a match," said Ferrer, before pointing to the effect of Madrid's thinner air on the ball. "The first day is not easy. You miss more, but that's all."
On the women's side, Maria Sharapova avoided an early exit after rallying to beat 56th-ranked American Christina McHale 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 while Li Na continued her dominance of Zheng Jie with a 6-2, 6-3 win. Second-ranked Li hasn't lost to her Chinese countrywoman since 2006.
Trailing 4-1 in the final set, Sharapova steadied her erratic service game and took command, eventually firing an ace down the middle to eliminate McHale for the second year running.
"After a really good start (in Madrid) I didn't keep that level. I think I had a bit of a letdown," said 2013 finalist Sharapova, who is coming off a tournament victory in Stuttgart.
Sharapova goes on to play Samantha Stosur and No. 2 seed Li faces Sloane Stephens in the third round. Former champion Petra Kvitova also advanced with a win on Tuesday.
Also, Fabio Fognini's recent struggles on Spanish clay continued as the 13th-seeded Italian lost 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov. Fognini failed to get out of the second round at Barcelona last month.
Nicolas Almagro won on his 11th match point play to set up a date Andy Murray, while seeded players Milos Raonic of Canada and Kei Nishikori of Japan also reached the third round.