INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - It was already a dramatic afternoon at the BNP Paribas Open, with five of the 11 early matches going to three sets - but the tension only got higher as the day went on, with four of the last five matches going the distance, the last one of the night going the longest distance.
American wildcard Sloane Stephens and Canadian qualifier Aleksandra Wozniak went to battle for over three hours in the last match of the center court schedule, with momentum shifts throughout the match but neither ever ahead by more than three games. Stephens served for the match twice in the third set but was broken both times, and when Wozniak built 4-2 and 5-3 leads in the third set tie-break it seemed like the momentum had shifted one last time.
But the American teenager hung tough, even saving a match point down 7-6, and eventually scored a 46 75 76(7) victory over former World No.21 Wozniak.
"I'm so happy right now. I had no idea it was such a long match, when I came off court I asked what time it was and was shocked," Stephens said. "There weren't many people out there - I think my family tripled the attendance, I had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents... but I love that court and it's always great to be out there. I didn't even feel the cold I was concentrating so hard. I'm just pleased I was able to stay focused to the end and keep positive, keep doing my thing."
Next for Stephens is a first-time meeting with No.18 seed Angelique Kerber.
Stephens wasn't the only marathon woman. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Michaella Krajicek and Sania Mirza all won in three sets as well, Zahlavova Strycova rebounding from a disastrous first set to beat Ayumi Morita, 26 61 64; Krajicek rallying from 4-2 down in the third to beat Urszula Radwanska, 36 64 64; and Mirza coming from 64 10 down to beat Kristina Barrois, 46 62 64.
Krajicek had been pushed to three sets in both of her qualifying rounds the last two days, so showed some impressive stamina to make it out on top again.
"I'm feeling really good but very exhausted at the moment!" Krajicek said. "The last time I played Urszula I was up a set and 6-5 with match point, then ended up winning in three sets, so I knew it would be really tough and she wasn't going to go away. Everyone here is really tough. I respect everyone playing here.
"I'm really relieved to win today, though, it could have gone either way."
Next up for Krajicek is a first-time meeting with the No.31 seed, Zheng Jie. "I've never played her but I'm sure my coach will tell me how she plays," she said. "She's ranked quite high and it will be a tough match but I will try my best."