Mired in a marathon game midway through the opening set, Maria Sharapova wore down her opponent with characteristic resolve and relentlessness, winning the last point without hitting a shot.
That put Sharapova ahead to stay and she beat fellow Russian Elena Vesnina on a muggy afternoon at the Sony Open 6-4, 6-2.
The No. 3 seed moved into the fourth round, eager to fill one of the few holes in her resume. While she completed a career Grand Slam last year, she has never won in Key Biscayne, losing the final in 2005, 2006, 2011 and last year.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Sharapova said. “It’s one of the biggest tournaments for us and it’s one that I have been the most consistent at, being in four finals, but yet not winning it.”
Her pivotal moment on Sunday came at 3-3 in the first set. The next game went to deuce seven times, with Sharapova repeatedly erasing a deficit, until Vesnina dumped a weary second serve into the net on break point.
All told, Sharapova benefited from eight double faults by the No. 29 seed and erased eight of the nine break points she faced.
Lauren Davis of the US lost 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 to No. 32 seed Alize Cornet at the peak of the heat and their 2 hour, 30 minute match left both players so exhausted they were taken off the court in wheelchairs. Davis also required treatment in the third set after being stung by a wasp.
Both players later said they were fine.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeated No. 254 Somdev Devvarman 6-2, 6-4, then rushed across a causeway to the mainland to watch the second half of the Miami Heat’s 26th consecutive victory in the NBA.
Djokovic, seeking his fourth Key Biscayne title and third in a row, next faces No. 15 seed Tommy Haas, who beat No. 19 Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 6-2.
Haas turns 35 next month and is playing at Key Biscayne for the 12th time.
Wild-card entry James Blake lost the day’s final match to Albert Ramos 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
Among the seeded women to lose were No. 6 Angelique Kerber, No. 11 Nadia Petrova and No. 14 Maria Kirilenko.
Kerber was beaten by No. 28 Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-0; Petrova was ousted by No. 22 Jelena Jankovic 7-6 (9/7), 6-4; and Kirilenko lost to No. 21 Klara Zakopalova 6-2, 7-6 (7/4).
The sweltering sunshine was motivation to work quickly, but Sharapova needed nearly two hours to eliminate Vesnina. Both players struggled with their serve as they battled the island breeze and both rued missed chances. Sharapova converted only four of 18 break points.
When Vesnina finally sailed a shot long to lose the opening set, Sharapova screamed and shook her fist at the ball. The gesture seemed to work as she claimed the second set more easily.
“It was a matter of patience,” Sharapova said. “In situations like this, where it’s tough and it’s hot, it kind of levels out the game a little bit and with the windy conditions you have to be a bit more patient.”
Sharapova seeks to become only the third woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne back to back. She beat Caroline Wozniacki in the Indian Wells final the previous weekend and has a win-loss record of 16-2 this year.
She has lost Key Biscayne finals to Kim Clijsters, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska, but she is not yet the champion. Top seed Serena Williams looms as a potential opponent in Saturday’s final.