The heat faded with the setting sun, but Roger Federer and Andy Murray needed a little longer to cool off as they won contentious battles in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday.
Federer eventually overcame his old friend and Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-5, after the ATP supervisor had been called to the court while Andy Murray got into an argument with Argentina's Carlos Berlocq over grunting and time wasting before winning a match that required far more puff and sweat than the 7-6 (4), 6-4 score suggests.
Rafael Nadal had to battle, too, before ending the 13-match winning streak of Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, after twice being within two points of defeat.
Nadal and Federer will face each other in the quarterfinals.
It is rare to see Federer become embroiled in an on-court argument, but he protested vociferously to the umpire and Supervisor Lars Graf when he was denied the opportunity to challenge a call because he had played a subsequent shot. The rule says that you must stop the point if you want to go to HawkEye, and by playing a forehand when the ball came back to him, Federer had not reacted soon enough. Graf explained this succinctly and walked off, leaving Federer with nothing more to say.
The defending champion did acknowledge that he was a little lucky to win in the end against an opponent who obviously has trouble fighting through the psychological barrier of trying to beat a friend who is also his nation's greatest sports star. Wawrinka has now beaten Federer just once in 14 meetings.
"I don't know what gets me through," said Federer. "Maybe it's experience or maybe a bit more calm in critical moments. I'm not sure. Today I think I was a little lucky to come through in the end."
Federer was too diplomatic to suggest that an excess of talent might have something to do with it.
Out on Court 2, Murray found himself playing an inspired Berlocq, who hit the ball so well and so hard that one wondered why he took 10 years to get himself inside the world's top 100. Even now, the 30-year-old has never been past the second round of a Grand Slam, which points to a lack of consistency and self-belief, because even Murray, who is no slouch at running down balls, was struggling to get his racket on some of the Argentine's returns.
Murray was broken when he served for the set and only started to dictate play after winning the breaker. Berlocq also started to make some mistakes off his lethal backhand, but perhaps the biggest mistake he made was to accuse Murray of taking longer than the newly installed 25-second rule between points.
Murray didn't find that amusing, especially as Berlocq had been coming out with elongated grunts on some points. "If it's going to be suggested that I am using gamesmanship by taking too long, then you can't make noises like that on court," Murray said. "It's far too loud. It's an extended grunt as well. It's still making a noise when you are hitting the ball. It's annoying."
It's not a good idea to annoy the U.S. Open champion, and it only made the Scot ever more determined to get to grips with some ragged form and advance to the quarterfinals, where he will meet another, potentially more formidable Argentine opponent in the form of Juan Martin del Potro, who swept past Tommy Haas, 6-1, 6-2.
Federer was quick to back Murray when asked about grunting in the men's game. "I think it's important to respect the opponent as a player so you shouldn't grunt too loud," he said. "You shouldn't grunt on one shot and not the next. I think that's a matter of respect, really."
The WTA has been talking to teenagers about the need to cut out grunting, and Federer said the ATP should also talk to its players. "I just think it's really important that the ATP speaks to any players that are involved (with grunting) away from matches because they need to understand what the deal is."
As president of the ATP Players Council, Federer speaks with authority, and you can be sure that the ATP officials will follow up.
As the day session dragged on into night, a crowd of about 12,000 was treated to some brilliant shot-making between Nadal and Gulbis, with the Latvian proving once again that he has the ability to take on the world's best. But Nadal was able to put aside concerns he was feeling about his movement to come up with match-saving shots when he needed them, including a perfect backhand slider down the line at deuce when he was serving to stay in it at 4-5 in the third.
"I think I played the more aggressive tennis, but that's what he can do," said Gulbis. "On the important points, he comes up with something special."
Nadal said he had played to Gulbis' backhand, his stronger side, more than he would have normally because of ongoing problems with his knee. "Today I didn't have the legs to switch direction quickly," he said. "Today the knee was so-so. I just have to fight it. I am happy to keep being focused and keep winning. Every victory is very important for me."