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Federer turns on the heat

Melbourne: Roger Federer moved within two wins of his record-tying 14th Grand Slam Tuesday, routing world No.8 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 on a day when defending champion Novak Djokovic’s hopes for a second straight Australian Open title ended under a broiling sun.

With ice packs and massages failing to provide relief, third-ranked Djokovic looked increasingly woozy and had to give up while trailing 6-7(3-7), 6-4, 6-2, 2-1, allowing No.7 Andy Roddick to claim a spot in the semi-finals.

The 26-year-old American will face second-ranked Federer.

Federer, who owns a 15-2 advantage in previous matches with Roddick but lost their most recent meeting at Miami last April, ran off the last 13 games.

“Playing Andy is always nice,” said Federer, 27. “We’ve had some big matches over the years and it’s always a pleasure to play against him because he brings energy to the court with his serve and his character. It’s nice to play somebody my age. Everyone’s so young now.”

Djokovic said he was cramping and sore, and “didn’t really have time to recover” from his previous match, which ended at 2:26am Monday.

Roddick, meanwhile, looked as fit as ever. After losing 15 pounds (7 kg) with a tough off-season workout regimen under new coach Larry Stefanki, he was quicker and his backhand stronger. The match left little doubt about the American’s stamina on a day when temperatures hit 35 C. with not a cloud in the sky.

“It’s rewarding to come out on a day like today, when it’s pretty hot, and feel pretty good. That’s what you do the work for,” Roddick said.

Nothing worked for Del Potro against Federer, who won 51 of the last 65 points and finished with 38 winners to a mere nine unforced errors.

Everything was working for Federer, and his mix of speeds and spins was masterful. One service game in the first set summed it up — ace, backhand winner, forehand winner, volley winner, all in less than two minutes. As he served for the second set, a fan shouted: “You’re perfect, Roger!”

Not quite, but very, very good.

“I thought it was going to be a tough match in the beginning,” Federer said. “We had some tough rallies, and it really showed the direction of the match, I thought. I was very mistaken. I’m happy about that.

“The longer the match went, the more he struggled and the better I got. The last couple games ... You want to almost put him out of his misery because you know how tough it is for him.”

Del Potro called it a bad day that showed that he needs to improve to compete against the best.

“I can’t do nothing in the match,” Del Potro said. “He play like No.1 of the world.”

In the first match of the day, Vera Zvonareva ran off 11 straight games to beat 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli of France 6-3, 6-0 to reach the semi-finals for the first time in 25 majors.

Seventh-ranked Zvonareva will meet fellow Russian Dinara Safina, who survived 11 double-faults and 36 unforced errors to beat Australia’s Jelena Dokic 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. It’s the second straight Grand Slam semi-final for Safina — younger sister of 2005 men’s champion Marat Safin — who lost to eventual champion Serena Williams at the US Open.

Dokic’s loss ended one of the tournament’s most compelling stories: The former Wimbledon semi-finalist was making her return to a Grand Slam after a three-year absence due to personal problems.

Safina apologised to the crowd for beating the local favourite, who advanced through a wild-card play tournament and was ranked No.187.

Meanwhile on Monday, fancied fourth seed Andy Murray suffered a fair-and-square five-set defeat at the Australian Open after almost half of Monday’s field had reached the quarter finals when their opponents retired injured or ill.

Serena Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Gilles Simon all eased into to the last eight of their draws without having to complete their matches but Murray, one of the favourites before the tournament, fell 2-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Fernando Verdasco.

Spaniard Verdasco faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga next after last year’s finalist beat James Blake 6-4, 6-4, 7-6.

Murray had been bidding to become the first British men’s Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry won the Wimbledon and the US Open in 1936 but, like so many British hopes before him, he flattered to deceive.

World No.1 Rafael Nadal breezed through 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 over Fernando Gonzalez, avenging a heavy loss to the Chilean here in 2007. Next up for the Spaniard is sixth seed Simon.

Gael Monfils and Zheng Jie waved Simon and Kuznetsova through early in the day by pulling out with wrist injures while women’s second seed Williams advanced when Victoria Azarenka staggered off centre court in tears, off-balance and barely able to hold her racket.

Thirteenth-seeded Azarenka had been leading 6-3, 2-4 but finally quit in tears after unsteadily patrolling the baseline for several points.

Azarenka needed to be assisted off court by two trainers, supporting her either side. Three-times champion Williams will play Russian Kuznetsova in the quarters after Zheng retired with a wrist injury.

Sixth seed Simon suffered a bittersweet experience, advancing to the quarters after friend and fellow Frenchman Monfils was forced to retire with a wrist injury.

Simon had been leading 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 when Monfils, who had been continuously flexing and shaking his right hand throughout the match, called a halt to proceedings.

Elena Dementieva stretched her winning streak to 14 matches when she demolished Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-2 to advance.

The Russian fourth seed now meets the unseeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro, who knocked out sixth seed Venus Williams, in the quarters. (AGENCIES)

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