Melbourne: A majestic Roger Federer emphatically announced his return as a Grand Slam contender by trouncing Jo Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 to charge into the Australian Open quarter finals, on Monday.
The former world No. 1, coming off a wretched 2013, channelled the halcyon days of his new coach Stefan Edberg, dominating at the net to humble the stunned Frenchman in 112 electrifying minutes under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.
Having suffered early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open, Federer muscled into his 41st Grand Slam quarter final, equalling the record of American Jimmy Connors in the professional era.
Rafael Nadal came through his first proper test to storm into the quarter finals, while Victoria Azarenka was left as the only top-three women’s seed still standing in the last eight after Maria Sharapova was scratched from the title race by Dominika Cibulkova.
In the men’s draw, the “Big Four” look poised to scrap it out for yet another Grand Slam crown over the next week after Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all won on Monday to join Novak Djokovic in the last eight.
Spaniard Nadal led the way with a 7-6(7-3), 7-5, 7-6(7-3) victory over Japan’s Kei Nishikori on Rod Laver Arena that was by no means as easy as the phrase “straight sets” would suggest.
The world No. 1 had to contend with a blister on his hand, a tumble, a time violation at a crucial moment and his first losses of his serve in the tournament but most of all with some inspired shot-making from the Asian No. 1.
While Nadal will meet Sharapova’s boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the semi-finals, Federer and Murray’s quarter final date ensures that at least one of the quartet of dominant men’s players will go home on Wednesday.
“Today’s victory has much more value than the victory of two days ago. Because when you are playing that good, the normal thing is to win. When you are playing normal and the opponent is a good one, and you are able to keep winning, that has much more value,” Nadal said.
Federer’s quickfire 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the most impressive of the day, particularly given the French 10th seed had taken him to five sets in Melbourne and beaten him at Roland Garros last year. “I definitely felt momentum was on my side, no doubt,” said the Swiss 17-time Grand Slam champion.
“I started the match well. Did I break first game? I think I did. I felt, alright, things were working for me tonight. Let me try to run away with it.”
Murray also looked to be racing to victory against Stephane Robert, the first lucky loser to reach the fourth round in Melbourne, but blew a couple of match points in the third set and was dragged into a tiebreak, which the Frenchman won 8-6.
The Wimbledon champion took out his frustrations on his a racquet, changed his shirt and then whipped through the fourth set to record a 6-1, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-2 victory.
Azarenka was utterly dominant as she swept into the quarter finals with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over American Sloane Stephens that extended her winning streak at Melbourne Park to 18 matches.
The win had none of the edge of last year’s semi-final between the pair, when Azarenka took a medical timeout after blowing five match points. Both Azarenka and Stephens had played down the controversy and Azarenka said she could not have felt more at home. (Reuters)