Defending champion Novak Djokovic swept past a spirited effort by Diego Schwartzman and into the quarter-final where he will face big-serving Milos Raonic while Tennys Sandgren won a “war” against 12th seed Fabio Fognini over four intense sets to roar into his second Australian Open quarter-final in three years on Sunday.
In the night session, Roger Federer flicked a switch after losing the opening set to crush Marton Fucsovics and book a record 15th Australian Open quarter-final.
The Swiss master took time to work out the Hungarian but when he did it was one-way traffic, romping to a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory. He will face unseeded American Sandgren for a place in the semi-finals.
Federer flick a switch
The ageless Federer was pushed to a gruelling five sets by John Millman in round three, but showed no signs of tiredness against Fucsovics despite being 38.
Both players took time to feel each other out and it went with serve to 3-3 before the Hungarian grabbed the first break on the back of some high quality service returns.
The unheralded 27-year-old, ranked 67, looked composed, with his power and aggressive forehand unsettling Federer and he held his nerve to grab the set – the first he had ever taken off the Swiss.
Undaunted, Federer kept has cool, started to find Fucsovic’s weaknesses and dictate the points, earning a break to go 2-0 ahead in the second set.
He didn’t let up as the Hungarian struggled to stay in touch, broken again as the tide turned and normal business resumed for the Swiss great.
Fucsovics, who was attempting to become the first player from his country to make the Melbourne quarters, was shellshocked as Federer turned on the style.
He raced to a double break lead in the third with some brilliant passing shots and there was no way back for a player who came into the match in decent form, winning his three previous matches without dropping a set.
Federer, who could face Djokovic in the semi-finals if he gets past Sandgren, wrapped it up in 2hrs 11mins, almost two hours less than his third-round epic against Millman.
Djokovic to meet Raonic
Djokovic, zeroing in on an eighth Melbourne Park title, has looked imperious in the tournament so far. The rampant Serbian second seed was on another level to Schwartzman, the 14th seed, crushing the Argentine 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena to book an 11th appearance in the tournament’s last eight.
Raonic is his next hurdle and the Canadian has also been in fine touch. Much like Djokovoic, he is yet to drop a set, blasting past fellow former world No 3 Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
The American Sandgren proved too hot for the Italian who was nursing a battered hand, winning 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, 6-7 (2/7), 6-4 to set up a last-eight clash against either Roger Federer or Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.
“Milos is one of the tallest, strongest players on tour and has one of the biggest serves,” said Djokovic, who is into his 46th Grand Slam quarter-final, second only to Roger Federer’s 57.
“I’ve got to be ready for missiles coming from his side of the net. One key element will be how well I’m returning.”
The Serb has met 32nd seed Raonic nine times and won them all. But the Canadian is back to full fitness after years of injury struggles and his powerful serve could cause problems. So far he has served 59 games and won them all.
Asked what he needs to do to beat Djokovic, he replied: “I think I’m going to have to hit more than 35 aces,” referring to the number he pumped past 2018 finalist Cilic.
“I think we play quite opposite from each other, and he’s done a good job in the past neutralising my serve,” he added of the Serb. “So I have really got to focus on my things well and be the one dictating.”
The Australian Open is Raonic’s favourite Slam. He reached the semi-finals in 2016, when he lost to Andy Murray, and the quarters on three other occasions, including last year.
His career, though, has been plagued by injuries, with operations over the years for hip, foot and wrist problems. He has also struggled with back, ankle, calf and knee issues.
He said it felt “pretty damn good” to finally be injury free.
While Djokovic had won all three of his past meetings against Schwartzman, the Argentine had caused him problems previously and he needed to come from two sets down at Roland Garros in 2017 to win.
Despite this the writing was on the wall – the Argentine had never beaten a top-five player in 21 clashes, and it wasn’t about to change Sunday.
They went game for game in the opening set until Djokovic pounced, working a break point to get the crucial edge and go 5-3 in front.
Sensing a quick victory, he stormed to a 3-0 lead in the second set, breaking twice.
But Schwartzman is a fighter who runs and scraps for every ball and he pulled back a break, only for the world No 2 to calmly serve out the set.
The scurrying Schwartzman is renowned as one of the fastest men around court and did all he could to claw back into the match, but Djokovic’s searing groundstrokes and pinpoint serving gave him few chances and the end quickly came.
“Diego is a quality player and I knew if I gave him time he could do a lot of damage from the back of the court,” said Djokovic, seeking to become only the third man to win eight or more titles at the same Grand Slam after Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“I tried to mix it up a bit, bringing him from the back of the court with the slice.”
Sandgren wins ‘war’
Sandgren’s clash with unpredictable firebrand Fognini had plenty of highs and lows.
Nerves began fraying after Sandgren won the first set and Fognini was allowed a toilet break, with the American confronting the umpire.
“He gets his own rules because you’re afraid to step on his toes,” he ranted.
“If you’re wondering why players think you guys give people different treatment, this is one of the reasons why. I think he gets different treatment.”
Fognini was then given a point penalty for taking his shirt off, before seeking treatment for his right hand that he injured by punching his racquet earlier in the tournament.
The distractions didn’t unsettle Sandgren who went two breaks and 4-0 up in the second set before Fognini came steaming back, winning five games in a row before he was broken again and the American regained focus to go two sets in front.
Sandgren needed treatment for an upper leg problem in the third set, which went to another tie-breaker with the Italian looking fresher as he took it to a fourth set.
There was little between them as they battled for supremacy in some high quality rallies until Fognini blinked first and Sandgren broke to win the match in the 10th game, taking a theatrical bow in front of a boisterous crowd.
With AFP inputs
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