MADRID – Novak Djokovic overcame a frustrating debut on the blue clay at the Madrid Open to reach the third round on Tuesday, while top-ranked Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova beat Czech opponents to advance in the women's event.
Djokovic's first match on the Magic Box's unorthodox surface was far from memorable as the top-ranked Serb labored to a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Djokovic was left fuming over the condition of center court, which he said was different from the practice courts he trained on before the event.
"To me that's not tennis. Either I come out with football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me how to play on this court," said Djokovic, who like Rafael Nadal has been critical of the new-look surface. "Center court is impossible to move on. I hit five balls throughout the whole match. With everything else, I was just trying to keep the ball in the court."
The defending champion was cruising until the second set when his 137th-ranked Spanish opponent broke for 2-1. Djokovic then made four straight unforced errors in his next service game — including two double faults — to go down 4-1.
Djokovic complained about the surface throughout, but managed to get his emotions in check and his game together to take a decisive 4-2 lead in the third set before sealing his 25th match win of the season.
"When you slide on the red clay you have a feeling you can stop and recover from that step. But here, whatever you do ... you are always slipping," said Djokovic, who hit 20 winners to 24 unforced errors. "Not a single player — not woman not man — I didn't hear anyone say 'I like blue clay.'"
Azarenka held off Andrea Hlavackova's challenge to win 6-3, 7-6 (2) after Sharapova beat Klara Zakopalova 6-4, 6-3.
Azarenka has already won four titles this year, including the Australian Open, but showed less convincing form on the blue surface.
"I felt like a lost a little bit of my concentration," Azaranka said. "I didn't adjust well to some of the obstacles that happened, but I'm glad that I could turn it around pretty quickly and finish the match in my favor."
Azarenka plays Ana Ivanovic in the third round after the Serbian beat Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-1.
"Sometimes you have these roller coasters and she is one those players that doesn't allow you a rhythm," Azarenka said, who is playing her second clay court event this season after losing to Sharapova in the Stuttgart final. "I'm glad I could stay in control and finish the match. There is more room to improve."
Sharapova was more convincing in her second-round match, as Zakopalova's erratic serve opened her up to Sharapova's solid ground strokes. Sharapova earned the first of five breaks in the opening game and was in command after another break gave her a 4-1 lead.
In men's play, Jurgen Melzer rallied to beat Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, the first seeded player to exit.
However, seeded players Tomas Berdych, Gilles Simon, Juan Martin del Potro, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco all advanced.
Hard-hitting Canadian player Milos Raonic beat Argentina's David Nalbandian 6-4, 6-4 to set up a date with Roger Federer on Wednesday, when Nadal debuts on the blue clay against Nikolay Davydenko.