Melbourne: An Australian Open hit by weather extremes faced a new challenge on Thursday: dirty rain, as overnight downpours left courts muddy and unplayable.
Workers armed with squeegees and high-pressure hoses rushed to clean the surfaces, delaying some matches for several hours.
The dirty rain, the result of dust storms becoming caught up in a cold front, coated cars with orange mud, forced public pools to close and turned Melbourne’s Yarra River brown.
It also plastered Melbourne Park, the tennis venue on the banks of the Yarra, further disrupting a tournament that has already weathered bushfire smoke, torrential rain and wind.
More rain set back Thursday’s action yet further, with some courts out of action five hours after the scheduled start on day four.
When the action got into full swing, top seed Rafael Nadal laboured past dogged fellow left-hander Federico Delbonis to take another step towards only a second Australian Open crown.
The Spanish world No. 1 created 20 break point chances but was constantly denied by the Argentine before he wrapped up a 6-3, 7-6, 6-1 win on Rod Laver Arena.
The victory set up a third round clash with countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, his doubles partner at this month’s ATP Cup.
“It was a tough match. I lost a lot of opportunities on break point but found a way to finally win the second set,” Nadal said.
Two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem broke local wild card entry Alex Boult’s serve in the third game of the fifth set and advanced to the third round with an epic 6-2, 5-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2 win.
“It was all of a sudden a really tight third set that shouldn’t happen. That’s why I was freaking out inside and also outside today,” said Thiem.
A nosebleed was one of Daniil Medvedev’s biggest challenges in his win over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez, while Gael Monfils, who injured his racquet hand playing computer games before the tournament, downed Ivo Karlovic.
Seventh-seeded Alexander Zverev also advanced with a 7-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over Egor Gerasimov. Zverev has pledged $10,000 toward the bushfire recovery effort in Australia for every match he wins in Australia, and promised to donate his full prize money if he claims his first major title this year in Australia.
In the women’s draw, Angelique Kerber is through after beating Australian wild card entry Priscilla Hon 6-3, 6-2.
Simona Halep said she dreaded to think how much money she owed her coach after victory over British qualifier Harriet Dart.
The fourth seed pledged earlier this month to donate $200 to Australia’s bushfire relief fund each time she gives her Australian coach Darren Cahill a hard time during matches.
Halep cruised the first set 6-2 against Dart, but the second set was not so easy, the Romanian kept at bay by the determined 164th-ranked Briton.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Halep slapped her thigh twice after failing to put Dart away on third match point at Rod Laver Arena.
The former No. 1 finally sealed victory at the fourth attempt when the 23-year-old Londoner fired long, but not before aiming a few choice words at Cahill.
“He’s counting this stuff so I am afraid to ask,” the 28-year-old Halep joked, after the 6-2, 6-4 win.
“It was a little bit dangerous, I lost focus a bit at the end. I like to play under pressure, it is more fun and exciting. But I prefer to finish the match when I can.”
Daniil Medvedev (4), Russia, def. Pedro Martinez, Spain, 7-5, 6-1, 6-3
Dominic Thiem (5), Austria, def. Alex Bolt, Australia, 6-2, 5-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2
Alexander Zverev (7), Germany, def. Egor Gerasimov, Belarus, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5
Andrey Rublev (17), Russia, def. Yuichi Sugita, Japan, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6
Gael Monfils (10), France, def. Ivo Karlovic, Croatia, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5
John Isner (19), United States, def. Alejandro Tabilo, Chile, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
Fernando Verdasco, Spain, def. Nikoloz Basilashvili (26), Georgia, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4
Rafael Nadal (1), Spain, def. Federico Delbonis, Argentina, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1
Stan Wawrinka (15), Switzerland, def. Andreas Seppi, Italy, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4
Karen Khachanov (16), Russia, def. Mikael Ymer, Sweden, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6
Donna Vekic (19), Croatia, def. Alize Cornet, France, 6-4, 6-2
Belinda Bencic (6), Switzerland, def. Jelena Ostapenko, Latvia, 7-5, 7-5
Garbine Muguruza, Spain, def. Ajla Tomljanovic, Australia, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
Karolina Pliskova (2), Czech Republic, def. Laura Siegemund, Germany, 6-3, 6-3
Angelique Kerber (17), Germany, def. Priscilla Hon, Australia, 6-3, 6-2
Elise Mertens (16), Belgium, def. Heather Watson, Britain, 6-3, 6-0
Kiki Bertens (9), Netherlands, def. Arina Rodionova, Australia, 6-3, 7-5
Simona Halep (4), Romania, def. Harriet Dart, Britain, 6-2, 6-4