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Blake steps into new territory, set to face Federer in quarters

1/21/2008 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer sure didn't want to
put in another 4½ hours.


So he made fast work of Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-3 Monday
to continue his march to a third consecutive Australian Open title
and narrow his pursuit of Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam
titles.


"It throws off your rhythm a little bit, playing a
five-setter," said top-ranked Federer, who barely avoided being an
upset victim in the previous round, when he survived a 10-8 final
set against Janko Tipsarevic.


"I like this one today better," he said after reaching the
quarterfinals. "I'm quite pleased with the result, pulling up from
a tough match."


Federer next faces American James Blake, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 winner
over 19-year-old Croatian Marin Cilic, advancing past the fourth
round here for the first time and matching his best Grand Slam
showing.


Fifth-seeded David Ferrer, who lost to Federer in the Masters
Cup final in November, beat fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero
7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. He will play third-ranked Novak Djokovic, who
ousted the last Australian hope when he defeated No. 19 Lleyton Hewitt 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.



With his win, Ferrer advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time.
He proved the more consistent player in a gruelling
tussle littered with long baseline rallies.

"I beat Juan Carlos playing very well, it was a very tough
match," Ferrer said. "I am very happy. Now I am a
little bit tired. I had problems in the fourth set because the
match was very tough."

Ferrer, a semifinalist at last year's U.S. Open, twice
needed treatment on a leg injury against friend and former
French Open champion Ferrero but clinched victory on his first
match point to end a contest lasting just over three hours.

"Always playing against David is difficult," Ferrero said. "He
doesn't make a lot of mistakes on the court. Physically, he's
very complete ... I knew before the match that it was going to be
difficult."

Hewitt didn't have his usual high energy level after beating
Marcos Baghdatis in five sets in his previous match, which didn't
end until 4:33 a.m. Sunday. That match was delayed by the length of
Federer's victory over Tipsarevic.


Djokovic recovered from a shaky start to clinch victory
in 2 hours and 26 minutes.

"I was very, very, very nervous," Djokovic said.

"In the first set I was lucky, but then afterwards I
relaxed and tried to be aggressive and take control of the
match which I did.

"Of course, Lleyton was very tired from the
Baghdatis match a couple of nights ago, so I took my
opportunities."

Hewitt showed no signs of fatigue early as
he broke to lead 4-2 in the first set, only for Djokovic to hit
back and win it. The Australian later admitted that his
body clock had been affected by the Baghdatis match, but he did not use fatigue as an
excuse.

"I didn't feel too bad," he said. "But probably not quite
as sharp as I would have liked to be.

"I felt ready when I had to go on the court. I started
pretty well. As the match went on, maybe I lost that sharpness
a little bit. But I was ready to go 7:30 p.m. tonight when we went
out to play."

Hewitt, in his 12th Australian Open, gave himself hope when
he broke early in the second set but Djokovic struck back to
win it and he stormed into a 5-2 lead in the third.

"He was too good tonight," Hewitt said. "He's
shown in big matches and over best-of-five sets in the big
tournaments that he is the worthy world number three at the
moment.

"And he's a lot better player than he was 12 months ago, I
think, when he lost to Roger [Federer] here last year. He's got
a great all-court game.

The Serb squandered two match points as he was broken when
serving for the match, but he broke Hewitt in the next game to
reach the quarterfinals for the first time.

Djokovic has yet to
drop a set in this year's tournament.

For Federer, he played his best under pressure while Berdych faltered.


Berdych, with a strong serve and sharp groundstrokes, had a
tendency for poorly executed drop shots at critical times. He
dumped one into the net while getting broken for the only time in
the first set while serving at 4-4, then again while serving at 6-5
in the second-set tiebreaker after Federer rallied from 2-5.


Berdych squandered a second set point at 7-6 when he flailed a
forehand long off an easy short ball, and Federer ran off the last
three points.


Always a great front-runner, Federer got an early break in the
third set, then held the rest of the way, dropping only four points
in his five service games.


He finished in 1 hour and 59 minutes -- 2½ hours less than
against Tipsarevic. Still, he said it wasn't as easy as the score
indicated.


"This was a tough match today," said Federer, who is going for
his 13th Grand Slam title. "Thank God he didn't win that second
set because you never know what's going to happen."


Blake's style would seem to match up well with Federer's because
of his tendency to take balls early but the Swiss star holds a 7-0
record in head-to-head meetings. Blake has won only one set, but
took encouragement from Tipsarevic's near upset.


"Every time I've stepped out on the court with him, I've felt
if I play my best, I give myself a shot with anyone in the world,"
Blake said. "Every time, he stepped up and played better."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.