Djokovic, Sharapova don't disappoint

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- The greatest day in tennis, by wide acclaim, is the middle Monday at Wimbledon, when all the round of 16 matches, men and women, are played.

It's typically a star-slathered slate of matches, but last year Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka -- to name a few -- did not make it to the second week at the All England Club.

May we humbly submit an alternative view? How about Tuesday's phenomenal dance card at Sony Open Tennis, which included the entire men's round of 16 plus two women's blockbuster quarterfinals that featured three Grand Slam singles champions.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic capitalized on his only two break-point opportunities to close out Tommy Robredo.

Call it Terrific Tuesday.

An impetuous south Florida squall delayed the start of play by about 45 minutes, but eventually freshly minted Indian Wells champion Novak Djokovic took the stadium court against Tommy Robredo. Meanwhile, over on the packed grandstand Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer were locked in a nasty tiebreaker. Spoiler alert: Ferrer destroyed his racket a few games later.

By day's end, 17 players, representing a staggering 135 Grand Slam titles, were expected to flail away at fuzzy tennis balls in the sultry, breezy conditions. An accounting:

• The breakdown was 68 singles titles, 48 doubles and 19 mixed doubles.

Serena Williams, who has won 17 singles crowns to go with 13 doubles and two mixed doubles, has produced nearly one-fourth of that total. Bob and Mike Bryan, with 15 doubles majors and 10 mixed, were next. Martina Hingis, with a total of 15, deserves an honorable mention.

• The best four men currently playing -- Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray -- have won 38 Grand Slam singles titles.

• The two unlikeliest champions: Richard Gasquet (mixed doubles at Roland Garros in 2004) and Elena Vesnina (Roland Garros doubles in 2013).

In typical fashion

Fabio Fognini, as dapper as he can be, was outclassed by Rafael Nadal relatively routinely. Nadal, who said he's playing focused ball, dropped just three points on serve in a 6-2, 6-2 win in the gusty winds. Nadal's win completed a sweep by the Big Four on Tuesday, a dominant effort by the game's upperclassman in which they failed to drop a single set. But for Murray and Djokovic, that streak will end Wednesday when they clash in a blockbuster quarterfinal.

Next up for Rafa, hard-hitting Milos Raonic.

"Yes, he's a very dangerous opponent, an opponent that you don't want to meet," Nadal said. "His serve is huge, one of the best without any doubt, and he's able to play very aggressive on the return because he doesn't feel a lot of pressure on his return because he knows that he's very safe with his serve, no?"

Down Under ... and out

Australian Open champion Li Na is still alive here. The No. 2 seed plays Caroline Wozniacki in Wednesday's quarters. Stanislas Wawrinka, her male counterpart, exited Tuesday 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 at the hands of Alexandr Dolgopolov. The Ukraine's Dolgopolov, 25, is on something of a tear after winning four matches at Indian Wells. All he did was beat No. 1-ranked Nadal, No. 14 Fognini and No. 11 Raonic in succession. Here, he's won three after an emphatic third set against the World No. 3. In another fourth-round match, Milos Raonic defeated Benjamin Becker 6-3, 6-4. Raonic out-aced Becker 15-0. And the last American man, John Isner, was ambushed by Tomas Berdych, losing 6-3, 7-5.

Backbreaker for Ferrer

It took more than three hours before the first major upset occurred -- officially, three hours, five minutes -- and that was just one match.

No. 20-ranked Kei Nishikori, a 24-year-old from Japan, took down No. 4 David Ferrer 7-6 (7), 2-6, 7-6 (9).

Nishikori, heroically, saved four match points.

"I was tired, of course," Nishikori said, "but he wasn't 100 percent the last couple of points."

Ferrer is one of the fittest players on the planet, but he also turns 32 next week. In the end, his forehand let him down; a short one sailed wide to give Nishikori his first berth in the quarters here.

"That means I can keep going," Nishikori said. "This gives me confidence."

Next up for Nishikori, who beat the ascending Grigor Dimitrov in the third round: Roger Federer, who crushed Richard Gasquet on Tuesday.

Kvitova melts down

Watch out for Maria Sharapova.

The five-time Miami runner-up has never failed to reach the final here when she gets to the quarterfinals. She's never won the title either.

Sharapova is through the quarters again because Petra Kvitova couldn't cope with difficult conditions, losing 7-5, 6-1.

The score was 5-all in the first set when the rain and gusting winds kicked in. When order was restored and the lines had been dried with towels, Sharapova won seven straight games.

It's been an emotional journey for the 2011 Wimbledon champion. After dropping the first set of her fourth-round match with Ana Ivanovic, Kvitova won the next two sets 6-0, 6-0.

And now, assuming Serena Williams takes care of Angelique Kerber in the nighttime quarter, Sharapova awaits in the semifinals. After winning two of the first three matches between them, Sharapova has lost an astounding 14 in a row.

"Yeah, I mean, you know, it's no secret that she's been a big challenge of mine, an opponent that obviously I would love to beat," Sharapova said. "There are certainly, you know, ways that I need to step up in certain situations that I haven't been able to do in the past against her. But it's great that I have come to that stage and have the opportunity to play her again."

Heavy weather

There was more to Novak Djokovic's 6-3, 7-5 victory over veteran Tommy Robredo than you might think.

First of all, the rain delay forced him to play without a prematch warm-up.

"So we had a longer on-court warm-up," Djokovic explained. "I don't know if I experienced that, maybe once, twice in my whole career."

Later, at 1-all in the second set, he gave Robredo a crucial point that he didn't have to.

"If I judge that I couldn't win the point, that I had no choice to get that ball back in the court or if I see the ball is good, I'm going to tell him to challenge," Djokovic said. "For me, it's something that is part of the sport and fair play. I expect everybody else to do the same."

Djokovic beat Robredo for the sixth straight time and advances to a quarterfinal clash with the winner of the Andy Murray-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga match.

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