Australian Open, Melbourne January 14-27, 2008; 128 Draw (32 seeded); Surface – Hard
The blue dislodges the green as the new Plexicushion surface replaced the Rebound Ace, which had served since the Melbourne inception 20 years before. Roger “self-created monster” Federer’s record of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals was finally snapped by a new power in men’s tennis embodied by Novak Djokovic. The tournament featured fascinating third round consisted of five matches that went to the distance, including the latest finish of a match in history, between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis.
Andy Murray  felt fit, prepared and confident – then he lost a fourth set tiebreaker to tumble out of the first round and become the first of the top 10 players to exit the Australian Open. Ninth-seeded Murray of Britain, winner at Doha two weeks ago, lost 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6(5) to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  of France. “I definitely felt like I deserved to win the fourth set and felt physically I was probably in better shape than him going into the fifth,” said Murray, who last year produced a scintillating fourth round match before losing to Rafael Nadal. This time, Murray said luck and poor decisions conspired against him. “It was just a few points here or there, I think a couple of bad decisions, you know, a couple of net cords here and there, that was the end of it,” he said. Unlike his first-round loss in 2006, when Murray acknowledged he was unfit, this year he said his preparation was right on track. “I did all the right preparation, you know, worked very hard on my game and I’ve improved a lot of my shots,” he said. “I’m obviously disappointed that I didn’t win the match. I would have wanted to win more than anything.” Roger Federer began the defense of his Australian Open title with an emphatic straight setsvictory over Argentina’s Diego Hartfield  in a day that also saw three people arrested for unruly behaviour. Police confirmed that three fans were evicted and interviewed for assaulting police, failing to obey lawful direction and indecent language. The trouble erupted, according to eyewitnesses, when police stepped in to deal with a group of around 40 fans. Federer showed no signs of the stomach bug that saw him withdraw from last week’s Kooyong Open as he breezed past the 26-year-old underdog at the cost of just three games in the second set in just under 1 hour 14 minutes. The world No. 1 hit 38 winners and 11 aces in a one-sided contest to set up a second round clash with Frenchman Fabrice Santoro. Lleyton Hewitt cast aside memories of his poor run-up to the tournament, which had included an early exit in Sydney earlier this month, as he dispatched Belgium’s Steve Darcis in brutal fashion. Both Federer and Hewitt, won their opening matches after exactly the same scoreline: 6-0, 6-3, 6-0. Hewitt’s dominance that Darcis only held serve twice in the entire match – he also managed to break Hewitt once in the second set – and the Australian refused to ease up on his opponent even when it was clear he was heading for victory. “In the end I felt like I could do pretty much what I wanted to do out there and play on my terms, which is good,” said Hewitt. “Against the better players they’re not going to give you as much opportunity to do that. But, with that said, I felt like I went out there and was aggressive and took what I’ve been working on in practice on to the match court.” Elsewhere, No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic showed his friend Murray how to win a first-round match as he eased past Germany’s Benjamin Becker 6-0, 6-2, 7-6(5). Djokovic rattled through the first two sets in under an hour, before grinding out the third (*0:2, 15/40 & 5-all in the tie-break) and hit 22 winners along the way. Djokovic looked relaxed as he entertained the crowd with impressions of Maria Sharapova – as well as playing a bit of tennis – but admitted he felt the pressure of being tipped to break Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s stranglehold on the grand slams. “Of course having such a great season [last year] and getting to third place in the world it’s a big pleasure and I’m really happy for that,” said Djokovic. “It’s very flattering when people talk about me in a positive way of course but it puts a lot of pressure on you.” But while Djokovic could hardly have been more impressive, it was yet another disappointing Australian Open for No. 17 seed Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, who lost to Dutch qualifier Robin Haase  in four sets, 7-6(2), 3-6, 0-6, 6-7(1). Ljubicic has now gone out in the first week at Melbourne Park in eight of his nine visits. The 20-year-old Haase notched first Grand Slam win. No. 30 seed Radek Stepanek‘s tournament also came to a premature end as the 29-year-old from the Czech Republic squandered a two-set lead (serving at 5:4, 30-all in the 3rd set) before losing to American Vincent Spadea 2-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3. But the other seeds in action on day two had little trouble reaching the second round. David Nalbandian thrashed Australian wildcard entrant Robert Smeets 6-1, 6-1, 7-6(3), Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero and Fernando Verdasco eased past Nicolas Kiefer and Thierry Ascione respectively (Ferrero took a revenge on Kiefer for a 4-set loss two years before), while James Blake also beat Nicolas Massu in straight sets. Marcus Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open runner-up, downed the 2002 champion Thomas Johansson 7-6(0), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to set up a mouthwatering second-round meeting with Marat Safin, who overcame Latvia’s Ernest Gulbis 6-0, 6-4, 7-6(2). Second seed Rafael Nadal survived an early test of his Australian Open credentials, battling to a 7-6(3), 7-5, 6-1 win over Viktor Troicki, a Serbian qualifier in his first grand slam appearance. Showing no signs of nerves, world number 126 Troicki forced a set point at 6:5* in the first set and led 4:2 in the second before Nadal finally wore him down to clinch victory in two hours, 35 minutes. “He played very, very aggressively,” Nadal said in a court-side interview. “Today I was struggling at some times in the match. I couldn’t get the rhythm in the beginning but in the third set I think I played a bit better.”In the cool evening conditions, Nadal missed the chance to serve out for the first set at 5:4 and then had to save a set point in the 12th game, before winning the tiebreak. Troicki then broke in the third game of the second set on his way to a 4:2 lead but Nadal levelled at 4:4 and after pinching the set, he eased through the third to win the match. The new bright blue Plexicushion playing surface installed for this year’s Australian Open is not really an issue for Andy Roddick or his closest supporters. “I don’t really care, half my family is color blind anyway, so it doesn’t matter,” he said. The sixth-seeded Roddick rallied to beat qualifier Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 in the opening round Monday, afterward describing the new playing surface as slow and gritty. But when it comes to the color, Roddick doesn’t seem to care. “I think that’s something where people are watching on TV,” he said. “I don’t think it really matters to us too much.” Top-seeded Roger Federer on Sunday came out in support of the bright blue, saying he preferred it to the green Rebound Ace surface of previous years. “Oh, yeah, because you could tell that it bothered him a lot throughout the years,” Roddick joked of Federer’s success on the green surface, on which the Swiss star won the 2004, 2006 and 2007 titles. In a match between two former finalists, 2003 runner-up Rainer Schuettler of Germany beat 2001 runner-up Arnaud Clement of France 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4. No. 11 Tommy Robredo beat Mischa Zverev 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 7-5, after 4 hours.
Second round: John Pye, Tom Lutz
Just another sunny day in Melbourne, just another imperious victory for Roger Federer. The reigning champion swept aside Fabrice Santoro 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 to book a place in the third round of the Australian Open. Santoro – playing in a record 62nd grand slam – was a willing opponent but managed to hold out for just 81 minutes against Federer’s withering array of groundstrokes. If it’s any consolation for Federer’s rivals, the Swiss made 18 unforced errors to Santoro’s four, but then again, he also sent down 53 winners. Federer will face the world No. 49 Janko Tipsarevic – a man known for his intellect – next. Tipsarevic might want to use those brains to start thinking up a plan – he’ll need it. “I practised with him at the US Open,” said Federer of Tipsarevic. “I really feel like he’s hitting a good ball. He’s good off both sides. He came through some tough matches. It’s going to be interesting to see how the beginning of the match starts. It’s going to be a dangerous match.” Tipsarevic advanced after beating the No. 23 seed Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 7-6(3), 7-6(3). Lleyton Hewitt overcame a lapse in concentration to beat the world No. 216 Denis Istomin 7-6(5), 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. The home crowd were anticipating a routine victory when the Australian served for the match at 5:4 in the third, but Istomin rattled off three games in a row to force the match into a fourth set. Hewitt eventually wrapped up the match with ease, but admitted he had allowed his mind to wander. “It was just a little bit of a lack of concentration, late in the third set,” said Hewitt. “But credit to him, he served well and played the big points well. He played a great match.” Elsewhere, the third seed Novak Djokovic made short work of Simone Bolelli, winning 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 while the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych overcame Oscar Hernandez of Spain 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. “It’s good to have a straight sets win, it’s what you want at a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “I played well but I struggled a little bit in the third set with my serve.” Fernando Gonzalez, the seventh seed, beat Korea’s Hyung Taik Lee 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, while 12th seed James Blake had no trouble dispatching Michael Russell 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, the 15th seed, beat Marat Safin 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2. World No. 62 Sam Querrey saw off Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov, the 32nd seed, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 (Tursunov led *5:2 in the tie-break, and 4:2 in the 3rd set). France’s Sebastien Grosjean, meanwhile recovered from a set down to beat Holland’s Robin Haase 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-7(4), 6-4. Every previous time Rafael Nadal has played the Australian Open, he’s gone deeper into the tournament than the time before. He advanced to the third round Wednesday on a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 win over Frenchman Florent Serra, showing signs that he could reach the two stages that he’s never been at Melbourne Park. Nadal made the third round in his debut in 2004, the fourth round in ’05 and, after missing a year, made the quarterfinals last year. Now he wants to up the ante. Against Serra, he unleashed some of the weapons he hopes will help him end Federer’s dominance at every Grand Slam not played on clay. Nadal has been ranked No. 2 for the last three seasons and is the only player to beat top-ranked Federer in the last 10 Grand Slams – in the finals at Roland Garros the last two years. His heavy slice and top spin that work so well on clay are well suited to the new, blue Plexicushion surface at Melbourne Park, which seems to be slower-paced and not as spongy as the old Rebound Ace. He yielded only 10 points while racing through the first set in 22 minutes, committing just four unforced errors. Serra got a loud ovation when he held serve for his first game while already down a break in the second set. Nadal’s retrieving skills often left Serra muttering to himself and he had no answer in the last game when the 21-year-old Spaniard set up triple-match point with a backhand winner and closed with an ace, his ninth. “Yeah, very happy,” Nadal said. “I’m trying to play a bit more aggressive and definitely serving better, which is good.” Tenth seed David Nalbandian recovered from a set down to beat Peter Luczak 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-1, (“I really felt like I could have won that one, but I didn’t,” Luczak said) while fellow Argentinian Juan Monaco – the 21st seed – beat American Amer Delic 6-3, 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-7(8), 8-6 in a 251-minute marathon. Monaco had his chances in third (5:2*) and fourth sets (two match points), then almost lost in five: he rallied from a 0:2* deficit in the decider, afterwards served twice to stay in the match! America’s Vincent Spadea also had to endure a lengthy battle before finally battling past Germany’s Denis Gremelmayr 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7. Spadea fought off three match points serving at 5:6. Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga followed his opening-round upset over No. 9 Andy Murray by hitting 54 winners and 14 aces in a 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-2 win over Sam Warburg.
Third round: Christopher Clarey, Martin Blake, Dennis Passa
A supreme crowd pleaser with his elegant, versatile game, Roger Federer gave the fans in Rod Laver Arena quantity as well as quality Saturday. He transformed what looked like a routine third-round match into the Australian Open’s latest epic, and gave his would-be victims in the second week a brighter-than-usual glimmer of hope. Janko Tipsarevic, the co-author of Saturday’s 4-hour-27-minute saga, is not one of the game’s established figures, but he has the potential to become one of the game’s great characters. Tipsarevic, a Serb ranked 49th, is an intellectual in an anti-intellectual sport. In a microcosm where PlayStation rules, he reads and rereads the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and admires the 19th-century Russian writer enough to have tattooed one of his phrases on his left arm: “Beauty will save the world.” And Tipsarevic had plenty of time to ponder his and Federer’s fates as he pushed Federer close to his considerable limits late into the fifth set as the crowd under the closed roof alternated between roars and deeply absorbed, slightly stunned silence. But even on an off day, Federer still possesses the deepest reservoir of options and confidence in the game. And what could have been one of the biggest upsets in tennis history turned instead into a 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 5-7, 6-1, 10-8 victory for Federer, the world’s longstanding and still-standing No. 1 player. “It’s not such a relief, more happiness,” said Federer, who has reached 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals. “I’m glad I could deliver a five-set thriller. I don’t have them that often except at Wimbledon against Nadal, so it’s nice to be part of something like this.” In comparison, last year’s Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal would have been anticlimactic. Federer won the final set there by 6-2. But against Tipsarevic in the fifth set, Federer could not find a way to break serve until the 17th game, and when the test of character finally ended with a blocked backhand return in the net, it had turned into the longest fifth set of Federer’s career. The repercussions for Federer remain unclear, but the repercussions for the tournament were immediate, as his unexpected marathon in the final match of the day session forced Open organizers to delay the start of the night session by two hours. “I really thought he had the upper hand from the baseline,” Federer said. “In the end, I just tried to block out all the chances I missed. He played some terrific tennis. It’s a pity for him, but what a great victory for me.” Federer did have opportunities in the two sets he lost. He served for the first set at 5:3 and failed to convert (5:4 in the tie-break). Prior to that set, Federer had won 30 straight sets in Melbourne! He also had two set points in the third set with Tipsarevic serving at 4:5. Federer swept through the fourth set before Tipsarevic’s resistance stiffened again. The fifth was largely a tribute to world-class nerve and world-class serving, as both men handled the pressure with aplomb. Tipsarevic saved two break points in the fifth game and did not face another until Federer cracked open the match at 8:8 by erasing Tipsarevic’s 40/0 lead with a run of brilliant shot-making. Federer did not face a break point of his own in the final two sets and finished with 39 aces, a career high. “I was feeling really comfortable on court today,” Tipsarevic said. “But the only thing which was causing me a lot of trouble is to try and read his serve.” When that night session finally ended, it was much more of a morning session as Lleyton Hewitt of Australia outlasted Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus by 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3, finishing him off at 4:33 a.m(the latest finished match thus far) after blowing a 5:1 lead in the fourth set (he slipped away a 5:2 lead in the 2nd set too). Hewitt, winless in 11 previous attempts at his national championship, had some much-needed good fortune. At one set all, Baghdatis rolled his right ankle as he tried to change direction on the baseline to chase down a clever Hewitt volley, and he writhed on the court in pain. But the Cypriot took some treatment, and fought through his physical troubles. Baghdatis began well in the third set, taking a 5:3* lead and holding a set point. But the redoubtable Hewitt saved the set point, then broke his opponent’s serve twice to close out the set 7-5. His spirit apparently broken, Baghdatis was humbled in the first part of the fourth set, slumping to 1:5 down. But, inexplicably, his body language changed again, and twice Hewitt the arch-competitor tightened; he could not serve out the match, at 5:1 and 5:3. Baghdatis also saved a match point at 2:5 (with a drop-volley) on his own serve during that set, and was twice interrupted by a spectator on his second serve at 4:5. The spectator was ejected, Baghdatis promptly served an ace and, ultimately, it came down to a tie-breaker, which the Cypriot dominated. On they went to a deciding fifth set in which Hewitt broke Baghdatis’s serve in the fifth game, then held sway (Baghdatis had a break point leading 2:1 when Hewitt’s loose forehand clipped the line). They had been jousting for four hours and three quarters by the time Hewitt ran around Baghdatis’s second serve and hit a vicious, forehand winner to close it (on his fifth match point).“Going on that late is not easy for anyone, any players, because it does throw your whole, you know, rhythm and clock out quite a bit,” Hewitt said. Organizers declined to invoke a new rule permitting the postponement of matches beginning after 11 p.m. and appeared to give contradictory statements about whether the curfew rule would be applied to night sessions. Tournament referee Wayne McKewen denied there was a backlog of matches or a rushed schedule, saying the curfew did not apply to Rod Laver Arena. But moments later tournament director Craig Tiley said the decision to apply a curfew rule on centre court could be made by a match referee. “The curfew is a recommended time, which was new this year. It’s also ultimately the referee’s discretion,” he said. Flicking back questions with more spin than a Hewitt groundstroke, McKewen said players sometimes requested a late start. “You have international players here. The time difference. We get players coming in asking to be put on late,” he said. Hewitt next plays No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who ousted Sam Querrey 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 to leave James Blake as the best U.S. hope at the Open.
Five latest finished matches at majors:
4:33 a.m. Lleyton Hewitt d. Marcos Baghdatis 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3 (Australian Open 2008, 3R)
3:34 a.m. Andreas Seppi d. Bobby Reynolds 6-1, 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 (Australian Open 2007, 1R)
2:26 a.m. Mats Wilander d. Mikael Pernfors 7-6, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 (US Open 1993, 2R)
2:26 a.m. Philipp Kohlschreiber d. John Isner 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 (US Open 2012, 3R)
2:14 a.m. Younes El Aynaoui d. Wayne Ferreira 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (US Open 2002, 4R)
More than four years removed from his first and only Grand Slam title, Andy Roddick has been exhaustedly attempting to reach that apex again. Roddick’s quest continues after he, at No. 6, became the highest-seeded casualty at the Australian Open after a scintillating 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 6-7(3), 8-6 loss to No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round (Roddick squandered three set points in the 3rd set tie-break; saved four match points serving at 4:5). The match encompassed brilliant shot-making, booming serves, grit and all-around peerless play from two players who maintained that level from its onset. Roddick finished with a career-best 42 aces (Kohlschreiber 32 – career-best) and 79 winners. But it wasn’t enough. These weighty stats only amplify Roddick’s affliction and disappointment in a year that was supposed to mark his renaissance at the age of 25. In late November, Roddick led the Americans to their first Davis Cup title in 12 years. It was a monumental win that most believed would carry over into the new year. Roddick appeared primed for his first major task of 2008, and after two effortless straight-set wins, there was little reason to think otherwise. “Yeah, that’s sports, man. You know, if you don’t want… an emotional roller coaster, if you want to be serene and kind of chilled-out all day, then get a job serving margaritas at the beach or something,” said a palpably irritated Roddick at his post-match news conference. “When you decide to be a pro athlete, you’re going to have ups, you’re going to have downs, you’re going to have extreme highs and extreme lows. That’s just the nature of the beast.” Roddick’s departure from the Australian Open was his earliest since his initial foray five years ago. “I took his best stuff for five sets and I thought I was going to get him to break or to fold. I thought if I kept it on him long enough that that would happen,” said Roddick after 3 hours and 50 minutes of grinding it out. Earlier, second seed Rafael Nadal moved into the fourth round today with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 over world No. 33 Gilles Simon, but only after surviving a torrid first set in which he had to save six set points. Nadal appeared sluggish in the opening exchanges and Simon wasted no time seizing the initiative, breaking his opponent at the first attempt and quickly seizing a 3:0 lead. It was an advantage he looked set to maintain as he dominated Nadal with some fierce hitting from the baseline. Even after missing his first two opportunities to take the set – when he blew two break points at 5:2 with a pair of unforced errors – Simon showed no signs of relenting, earning another set point on his own serve in the next game. Once again Simon’s nerve failed at the crucial moment, as he sent a backhand long under little pressure, but once again he appeared to recover, taking a 0/40 lead on Nadal’s serve at 5:4. At the crucial moment, however, Nadal steadied himself, serving up two aces and a perfectly weighted drop shot to bring the game to ‘deuce’, before seeing out the game in similarly emphatic fashion. Finally Simon wilted, allowing Nadal to break again and take the first set in 70 minutes. Taking advantage of the blow he had inflicted on his opponent’s morale, Nadal stormed into a 4:0 lead in the second set, and although Simon recovered, the outcome would never again look in doubt. Nadal will now face Paul-Henri Mathieu in the fourth round, after the Frenchman beat Stefan Koubek in an epic five-setter 4-6, 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-5, 8-6. Koubek led 3:0* in the 4th set, he lost the 11th game of that set after 7 ‘deuces’, he also led 3:0* in the decider! [It was the only major in which Mathieu was coached by a 3-time Aussie Open champion – Mats Wilander] Earlier, fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko required treatment for a knee injury, but still had little trouble dispatching another Frenchman – Marc Gicquel – 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. He will face compatriot Mikhail Youzhny, who saw off Ivo Karlovic 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. Andy Murray’s first-round conqueror Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, meanwhile, continued his fine tournament with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet downed Igor Andreev 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. From Flushing Meadows to Roland Garros to Wimbledon and Melbourne Park, James Blake has answered the inevitable questions for seven years about how he could lose yet another big match in five sets. So it was with a certain amount of anticipation, maybe even glee, that Blake prepared for questions about his five-set, third-round win today over Sebastien Grosjean at the Australian Open with a request of his own. “Please,” he implored, “let it be about my five-set record.” After the chuckles died down, Blake got to talk about his 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Grosjean, his second in a match going to five sets after losing nine in a row at Grand Slams or in Davis Cup. His first five-set Grand Slam loss came to Lleyton Hewitt in the second round at the U.S. Open in 2001. From there, he lost five-setters in 2002 at Melbourne, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, 2005 at the French Open and U.S. Open and in 2006 in a Davis Cup match and at the French Open and Wimbledon. He was up 2-0 in sets on four occasions and down 2-0 in two others, including Saturday. He broke the travelogue of five-set frustration at last year’s U.S. Open with a second-round win over Fabrice Santoro, then did it again to another Frenchman on Saturday to advance to the fourth round. Any wonder he was anxious to talk about it. “That’s got to be my biggest comeback – down two sets to love, two sets to one, two breaks against a guy that was getting a lot of free points on his serve,” Blake said. “4:1 in the breaker, 5:3 in the breaker… it just seemed like every time there was a mountain to climb.Some of them now are turning my way. It’s a good feeling.” Blake, who has never gotten past the fourth round here or the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam, appeared to be headed for a quick exit when Grosjean took the first set and jumped to a 4:0 lead in the second. The 28-year-old American turned it around as Grosjean, who committed only 15 unforced errors in the first two sets, had 13 in the third, when he won only 11 points in six games. Grosjean counterattacked against Blake’s go-for-broke style and gathered himself to break twice in the fourth set to pull ahead 4:1 before Blake ran off four games in a row. Grosjean saved a set point while serving at 4:5 and took a 5:3 lead in the tiebreaker, but Blake took the last four points, three on clean winners. That seemed to take the steam out of the Frenchman. Blake broke Grosjean twice as he opened up a 5:1 lead in the deciding set, the second on a forehand passing shot, pumping his fist as he ran to his chair at the changeover. He held at love to finish off the match in 3 hours, 8 minutes, leaning back and smiling broadly, then tossing a ball, his headband, wristbands and shirt into the crowd. Blake had a quiet word with himself and looked decidedly glum when he was down 4:1. “I don’t think a lot of people like my chances, but I always do,” Blake said. “No matter what my body language says – I know I’ve been criticized about that in the past – but that’s a little bit of the perfectionist in me.” Blake plays Marin Cilic  of Croatia in the fourth round. Cilic beat last year’s losing finalist, No. 7 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-1 Friday. “I saw a little bit of his (Cilic’s) match,” Blake said. “It looked like he was playing some great tennis. There’s never going to be an easy fourth round of a Slam.” Cilic and Blake played once – in Bangkok in 2006, when Cilic won only three games in a 47-minute loss to the American. That won’t count for much, says Blake. “He was a totally different player then… a year and a half ago and he was so young and so new and probably nervous,” says Blake. “I won’t even really consider that I played him.”
Fourth round: Piers Newbery, Christopher Clarey
Defending champion Roger Federer saw off 13th seed Tomas Berdych in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. The Swiss star had been taken to five long sets in his previous match against Janko Tipsarevic. And Federer had to save two set points in the second set of another hard-hitting encounter before coming through 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-3. He next plays 12th seed James Blake, who beat Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The American believes he can give Federer a run for his money in their last-eight encounter, even though the world number one has a 7-0 record in head-to-head meetings. “I’ll give my best shot against Roger,” he said. The Swiss served out the set and threatened to break at the start of the second but it was Berdych who made the early breakthrough to lead 3:0. Federer fought back to level and saved another break point in game eight as the pair headed for what would be a crucial tie-break. Berdych had the edge early on but from 5:2 down, Federer stepped up a gear to level before uncharacteristically missing with a forehand. It was set point to Berdych but he chose this vital moment to play another dreadful drop shot, before over-hitting a forehand when he got a second chance moments later. Federer was not about to let him off the hook and duly took the breaker before breaking in game six of the third, following a double-fault and another missed forehand from Berdych. From the look of Novak Djokovic‘s big game once he finally stopped bouncing the ball and served, it probably would not have made much difference to the Australian Open’s quarterfinal lineup whether Lleyton Hewitt was at his freshest on Monday night. “Of course he was tired and exhausted,” Djokovic said after his 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory in the fourth round had put an end to the latest of Hewitt’s increasingly unlikely attempts to win his home Grand Slam. Hewitt declined to blame the loss on the strange-but-true fact that his previous match against Marcos Baghdatis had set a dubious standard by not starting until shortly before midnight and not finishing until 4:34 a.m. “Absolutely not, he was too good tonight,” Hewitt said of the third-seeded Djokovic. But the scrappy Australian, seldom easy to embrace for his compatriots but suddenly a sentimental favorite after his all-nighter, was not quite having none of it either. “I didn’t feel too bad, but probably not quite as sharp as I would have liked to be,” he said. Between the post-match news conference, the transport back to his lodging and the adrenaline, Hewitt did not get to bed until about 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. “Obviously, I could have probably slept all day yesterday,” he said. “Obviously, in the middle of the tournament, had to get up at some stage and do rehab and, you know, prepare as well as possible. So yeah, wasn’t the ideal finishing time.”Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Frenchman who ended British hopes on day one with victory over Andy Murray, continued his fantastic run in Melbourne by dumping out compatriot Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. Tsonga progressed into the last eight courtesy of a 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 6-3 win over his close friend and eighth seed in 3 hours and 19 minutes. Nikolay Davydenko had no answers to fellow Russian Mikhail Youzhny as the 13th-ranked man eliminated the world No. 3, 7-6(2), 6-3, 6-1. And David Nalbandian became he third big name to fall at Melbourne Park after the 10th seed was handed a straight sets 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 defeat to former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero. It is the first time Ferrero has made the fourth round of the Australian Open since he reached the semi-finals in 2004, while it is Nalbandian’s worst showing in Melbourne since 2002. But it was the crowd-pleasing Tsonga that captured the imagination of the fans on day seven. The world No. 38 looked at home in his second match at a near-capacity Rod Laver Arena, using a blend of fierce baseline power and finesse at the net to record the win over his country’s top-ranked male. Tsonga is quickly becoming the rising star of the tournament, much like recent finalists Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez before him. “I’m very comfortable on this arena,” he said. “Every time I played it has been full, so there is a very good atmosphere, and I feel very good on this court.” Meanwhile, Andy Roddick’s conqueror Philipp Kohlschreiber  saw his challenge ended by Jarkko Nieminen  in an entertaining four-set contest at Margaret Court Arena. Nieminen, the 24th seed from Finland went on to record a 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(9), 6-3 victory to seal a place in the last eight. It was an amazing 4-set battle in terms of dramaturgy because Kohlschreiber didn’t convert any of his 11 (!) set points in the middle sets. Especially the 2nd set was stunning as Kohlschreiber wasted on serve a triple set point at 5:4 and a double set point at 6:5. Spanish second seed Rafael Nadal is through to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open after his French opponent Paul-Henri Mathieu retired injured from their match. Nadal was in control, leading 6-4, 3-0, when Mathieu told the chair umpire at the change of ends, that he could not continue. Nadal said he was happy with the way he had been playing, but it was a sad way to progress in the tournament. “I’m sorry for him, I know it’s a very tough moment for him,” he said. “I’ve had it happen sometimes the same, it’s a very tough moment so I’m sorry for him. I’m happy to be through to the quarter-finals, not like this, but I’m very happy anyway.” Mathieu, who has never been past the fourth round of a grand slam tournament, cited a strain in his left calf muscle as the reason he could not continue.
Quarterfinals: Paulo Bandini
Roger Federer has set up an enticing Australian Open semi-final with Novak Djokovic with a typically comprehensive victory over the American James Blake. Defending champion Federer never really got out of second gear, against 12th seed Blake, yet still rolled to a 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-4 win. Breaking Blake’s service at the first attempt in all three sets, Federer allowed himself to be pegged back on a couple of occasions without ever looking at risk of losing his grip on the match. In the first set Blake, finding his rhythm with some typically violent groundstrokes, actually broke Federer straight back in the third game before leveling the set at 2:2, yet Federer was able to raise his game at the crucial moment in the final game of the set to break his opponent for a second time. The second set followed an almost identical path, opening with an exchange of breaks before Federer once again found himself with two set points on Blake’s serve – this time at 5:4. After venting his frustration at a line judge, Blake managed to dig deep and rescue the game, but not the set, as Federer pulled off a series of superlative shots to take the tie-break. Drained by his efforts in the previous set, Blake was broken in the first and fifth games of the final set, and although he managed to break back once, Federer served out the game on his first match point to set up the tie with Djokovic, who is yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament. “It’s great being on top of the game for so long and being compared to greats like [Rod] Laver and Pete Sampras,” said Federer, who has now held the world No. 1 spot for a record 209 weeks. “It’s great being part of the pinnacle of the sport in every grand slam I’m playing in.” Earlier, Novak Djokovic had dismantled fifth seed David Ferrer in straight sets. Ferrer, who had only dropped one set himself so far in Melbourne, was expected to pose a stiff challenge for Djokovic, but the third seed started at a breathtaking pace and only began to relent late in a 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 victory. After blowing Ferrer away in the first set, Djokovic didn’t have things all his own way in the second, having to dig himself out of with some booming serves when he had looked set to be broken at 2:2. Nevertheless, he broke Ferrer again to break his opponent and take the set 6-3, and break once again at the beginning of the third set. Ferrer, playing his best tennis of the match, saved four match points before finally breaking back to draw level at 5:5, only to surrender his own serve on the very next game. Djokovic, who threw his racket at one point and berated at a section of the crowd who were distracting him as he tried to serve out the match, finally sealed the win on his fifth match point. “In the end, I was very, very nervous,” Djokovic admitted, before apologizing for his show of temper. “There’s no excuse for that, and I was behaving really really badly. [But] we all fight to win and sometimes on the court you cannot control your emotions. I am really happy to be through. I just have to start believing in myself a bit more.” Federer was full of praise for his next opponent, saying: “He’s done a phenomenal job, four semi-finals of Grand Slams at his age. I was never close to that at his age. He’s improved so much in the last couple of years and it’s exciting playing the best in the world.” The three-times French Open champion, Rafael Nadal saved two set points before winning the first set and then gradually turned the screw to see off 24th seed Nieminen in 2 hours, 19 minutes 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. “It’s the third match that I have had set points against me in the first set so I’m very happy about (coming through) that,” Nadal said in a courtside interview. “He had his chance at 15-40 and he missed the return, but he played very aggressive and had a great tournament.” Spaniard Nadal took his time to get into his stride and Nieminen, who was appearing in his third grand slam quarter-final, forced him into some uncharacteristic errors early on. Nieminen forced one break point in the eighth game and then two set points in the 10th game but Nadal dug deep to snatch the set. The Spaniard forged a 4:1 lead in the second set and though Nieminen got one of the breaks back, Nadal eased to a two-sets-to love lead before cruising through the third. He next faces unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who overpowered Mikhail Youzhny 7-5, 6-0, 7-6(6). Tsonga seems like the dark horse of the tournament but will he be able to do it against Nadal? The 22-year-old and Russian Youzhny traded powerful groundstrokes in a high-quality opening set which went with serve until Tsonga produced a tremendous backhand to take it with the first break. The Frenchman put pressure on Youzhny’s serve early in the second and secured the break, to love, with a wonderful lob. Youzhny immediately called for the trainer to have strapping on both ankles adjusted. Although it did not appear to hamper him, he had no answer to a series of blistering winners from Tsonga as he raced through the set in quick time. Fourteenth seed Youzhny could not match his opponent’s consistency of power and subtlety, while his serve was under more pressure. But he drew encouragement as Tsonga’s exceptional level of play dipped in the third set and had a set-point at 6:5 in the tie-break. Tsonga came up with the big shots when they counted, however, to win three successive points and register another tremendous victory. “It’s just amazing. I played just unbelievably,” the rising French star said. “I tried to be relaxed because it’s a big event for me and it was difficult to stay calm, it worked and I’m very happy about that.” Of his clash with Nadal, he added: “It’s going to be difficult. I’m going to have to run again and again, so I will do my best and I hope to play like this.”
Semifinals: Kane County Chronicle
The crowd roared as Roger Federer rallied against Novak Djokovic. Surely this was the start of a comeback by the world’s top-ranked player. Surely Djokovic was cracking under the pressure of trying to gain his second major final. Not this time. For once, Federer wasn’t invincible. He had reached 10 straight Grand Slam finals, and won 19 matches in a row at Melbourne Park. That all came to an emphatic end when he lost to No. 3 Djokovic 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(5) in the Australian Open semifinals Friday. “I’ve created a monster that I need to win every tournament,” Federer said. “Still, the semifinals isn’t bad.” The Swiss star had been seeking his third consecutive title here, which would have pulled him within one of Pete Sampras‘ record of 14 Grand Slams. Instead, he’ll have to start thinking about his practice regime for the clay courts at the French Open, the only major to elude him so far. “I think he made the more important points today, it was a bit unfortunate for me,” said Federer, who rubbed his eyes frequently at his post-match news conference. “There is no doubt I have played better before.” He lost in straight sets for the first time in a Grand Slam tournament since a third-round defeat to Gustavo Kuerten at the 2004 French Open. The emotional Djokovic, who has reached the semifinals of the last four majors, pounded 13 aces and 50 winners, largely avoiding the nerves that have occasionally troubled him. “I am just very amazed I coped with the pressure today,” the 20-year-old Serbian said. “In the most important moments, I played my best tennis. It’s just amazing, indescribable, to beat the No. 1 player of the world, one of the best players this sport has ever had, in straight sets.” Djokovic, who complained of exhaustion at the Masters Cup in November after playing more matches than anyone last year, then rejuvenated himself with a break in which he did as little as possible. Despite a 1-5 record against Federer that included a loss in the U.S. Open final last September, Djokovic was far from intimidated on a muggy night in packed Rod Laver Arena, even after getting broken in the first set. Federer, who is usually at his best as the pressure builds toward the end of a set, pulled ahead at 5:3 only to be stunned as Djokovic ran off the last four games. Federer grimaced or hung his head as his groundstrokes and feathery drop shots lacked their usual punch and accuracy, or deserted him entirely. “Sometimes when you don’t take your chances early on, you’ll pay the price later,” he said. “There is some sort of a disappointment. The way I tried, that’s all I could give. When you give 100 percent, you’re sort of happy with your performance. It can’t always go your way.” Djokovic broke him to pull ahead at 3:1 in the 2nd set. He finished off the game by getting to a drop shot on the dead run and flicking a backhand past Federer that kissed the line. Djokovic roared and raised his fist, then repeatedly pounded his chest. He broke again to pull ahead at 5:1. Serving for the set, Djokovic looked a little tight, and Federer took advantage to break. When he held to make it 5:3, the crowd came alive and chants of “Let’s go Roger, let’s go” nearly drowned out shouts of “No-vak, No-vak.” “I felt the crowd was not behind me, but that’s OK… I fight two opponents,” Djokovic said. Federer forced ‘deuce’ as Djokovic again served for the set. Known for his tendency to bounce the ball up to two dozen times before serving, particularly when things get tight, the Serbian got a time delay warning. Instead of being shaken, Djokovic was fired up. He ripped a forehand winner and glared up at chair umpire Pascal Maria of France, then blasted an ace and stared defiantly at Maria again. In the 3rd set Federer had two chances to break as Djokovic served at 5:6, but the Serbian refused to crack, hitting two great serves, then getting to a drop for a forehand crosscourt winner to force a tiebreaker. After Djokovic set up match point with a good serve, Federer netted a forehand to finish it. The crowd slowly rose to its feet, almost in disbelief, before applauding Djokovic , then gave Federer a standing ovation as he quickly left the court. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had been compared to a young Muhammad Ali only because of an uncanny likeness to the boxing great. That was until he skipped across Rod Laver Arena, arms up in a biceps-flexing pose, thumbs pointing at his head after knocking out Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and getting a title shot at the Australian Open. Nadal, ranked No. 2, got a taste of what No. 8 Richard Gasquet, No. 9 Andy Murray and No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny faced in earlier rounds. Tsonga’s groundstrokes were audacious, his hand speed amazing. And he had the Spaniard stumbling well before he aced him on match point. The unseeded Frenchman, hampered by injuries for much of the last three seasons, eliminated Nadal 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. “For me it’s a big dream. It’s just amazing – I played unbelievable,” Tsonga said. “Everything went in. My backhand worked a lot and my serve also. My forehand, my volley, my drop shot, everything. I was moving on the court like never I move, so everything was perfect.” When Nadal tried to counter-punch, Tsonga had an answer – a half volley from ankle height, a powerful backhand or crisp forehand pass. Nadal, the only man to beat Federer in the past 10 majors, had no explanation for his performance. “I was playing fine,” Nadal said. “He played unbelievable. Congratulate him.” Tsonga didn’t face any break points until the third set, when he saved three in one game. “I can’t believe some of his volleys,” Nadal said. “I tried to play a little bit slower; I tried to play a little bit faster; I tried to play more inside the court, behind the court. No chance. Not today.”
Final: Paul Alexander
Novak Djokovic didn’t have to do an impersonation this time. He’s a Grand Slam champion for real. Serving notice that his rapid rise in the rankings last year was no fluke, third-ranked Djokovic ended the Cinderella story of the Australian Open by beating unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(2) in Sunday night’s final. “I think every player dreams about winning a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “It’s something special.” Top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal had combined to win the last 11 Grand Slams. Djokovic personally held up Federer’s drive for Pete Sampras‘ record of 14 Grand Slam titles on hold by ousting him in the semifinals. Federer now will go for No. 13 at the French Open. Despite reaching at least the semifinals at the last three Grand Slams, Djokovic has been better known as “Djoker” for his wry sense of humor and impressions of other tennis players that have become hits on YouTube. It was easy to see that requests for the impersonations were wearing on him at Melbourne Park – he tried to beg off when he was asked to mimic Maria Sharapova after a match early in the two-week tournament – so Djokovic let his tennis do the talking. It spoke volumes. The 20-year-old Serbian, who said he listened to music, watched funny videos and told jokes in the locker room to relax before going on court, hadn’t dropped a set in six matches until Tsonga stunned him with a pair of great shots to break and take the first set. Djokovic didn’t crumble. Just the opposite. Forced to fire himself up with the packed Rod Laver Arena crowd overwhelmingly favoring underdog Tsonga, Djokovic was pumping his fist and pounding his chest toward his biggest pocket of supporters as he slowly but steadily halted Tsonga’s dream run. It included victories over four players ranked in the top 14, including Nadal in the semifinals. “I was a bit nervous on the start because I found myself in a strange situation: that I am the favorite in the finals of a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “It was dangerous, but I managed to cope with the pressure well.” Tsonga, ranked 38th coming into his fifth major, will move up to No. 18 after advancing past the fourth round for the first time. The Muhammad Ali lookalike has delighted the Melbourne Park fans with his ebullient personality and go-for-broke style, and his parents were at courtside after flying in earlier in the day for the match. “The crowd was unbelievable,” Tsonga said. “I had goosebumps. It was crazy. I’m very proud of myself. I’m happy for Novak, because he played unbelievable today.” A portrait of Ali, a racket sketched in one hand, was taped to a stadium wall, and Tsonga sprinted onto the court for warm-ups. Both men looked tight at first, dropping their first service games before settling in. Tsonga blasted three aces to take a 5:4 lead in the first set. Serving at 30/30 in the next game, Djokovic had an easy overhead, but didn’t do enough with it. Tsonga ripped a forehand crosscourt passing shot for a winner, then raised his racket and roared with the crowd. Another good forehand winner finished off the set, and Tsonga went down on one knee to pump his fist before dancing over to his chair to a standing ovation. It was his last chance to celebrate. Djokovic never faced a break point in the second and third sets, yielding only 10 points in his nine service games. But he got another scare when his left hamstring tightened up and he had to get treatment in the fourth set. The massage helped, and Djokovic raced through the fourth-set tiebreaker. “You could see that we were not moving really well, both of us, that we were really tired,” Djokovic said. After Tsonga hit a forehand wide on match point, Djokovic fell on his back, then got up to shake hands with Tsonga and put his arm around the Frenchman. He got on his knees and kissed the court, shook hands with his family, then tossed two rackets into the stands before burying his face in a towel. “I know the crowd wanted him to win more,” he told the fans after the trophy presentation. “That’s OK. I still love you guys, don’t worry.” Djokovic’s 8th title. Stats of the final