Jankovic and Kuznetsova survive U.S. Open "heatwave"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic and Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova needed all their fighting qualities to overcome blistering temperatures and fired-up opponents at the U.S. Open on Tuesday.

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The pair had to use all their big-match experience to win first round matches after the sweltering conditions turned the last grand slam of the season into a battle of survival.

Jankovic, a finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2008, fought back from the brink of defeat to beat Romanian Simona Halep 6-4 4-6 7-5 after Kuznetsova, champion in 2004 and runner-up in 2007, worked overtime to beat Japan’s Kimiko Date Krumm 6-2 4-6 6-1.

Jankovic, seeded fourth, and Kuznetsova, seeded 11th, both struggled to produce their best on a day when temperatures soared to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving players soaked in sweat and gasping for air.

While no matches were stopped because of the heat, tournament referee Brian Earley invoked the Extreme Weather Policy for the women’s matches as some spectators abandoned the stands to watch matches on television sets in shaded parts of Flushing Meadows.

“It was pretty hot,” Jankovic said after winning her opening match on the Arthur Ashe center court. “I don’t really know exactly how many degrees, but obviously, you know, it’s not easy to play in these kind of conditions. You have to just try your best.”

Under the tournament’s extreme heat policy, players are allowed to request a 10-minute break between the second and third sets if the temperature was above 30.1 Celcius before the match started.

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Kuznetsova’s match on the Grandstand court began before the policy was invoked, meaning the players could not have a break between sets, but they were given ice vests at the change of ends and sheltered from the blazing sun by umbrellas.

“It was hot for me. The heat bothered me a little bit in the first set, just when I started,” Kuznetsova said. “Then I was fine. I just adapted and I played.”

The severe conditions took their toll on the draw with two seeded players making early exits.

Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, seeded 16th, was beaten by Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-3 2-6 1-6 6-4 7-5 while Clement’s countryman Jeremy Chardy defeated Latvian 24th seed Ernests Gulbis 6-2 7-6 6-4.

World number one Rafa Nadal was scheduled to start his U.S. Open campaign in the first of two feature night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The Spanish world number was due to play Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili before the women’s top seed, Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, takes on American wildcard recipient Chelsey Gullickson.

Editing by Frank Pingue