Swiss second seed Roger Federer demolished old rival Marat Safin in fearsome style on Friday as Australian Open defending champion Novak Djokovic survived his first real test.
Federer and Safin’s last match here was a five-set epic in 2005, but the Swiss swiftly disposed of his fellow former champion as he took another step towards a record-equalling 14th Grand Slam title.
Afterwards Safin confirmed his likely retirement this year, signalling the end of a professional career that started in 1997 and includes two Grand Slam titles.
”I doubt it,” said the Russian, when asked if he would return next season.
Serbia’s Djokovic dropped his first set and was taken to a fourth-set tie-break by Bosnian-American Amer Delic, in a match crackling with ethnic tension and followed by ugly clashes outside.
A revitalised Andy Roddick ended French veteran Fabrice Santoro’s Australian Open career, while Marin Cilic ousted Spanish seed David Ferrer to set up a last-16 duel with fellow young gun Juan Martin del Potro.
Federer and Safin have met twice before here, with the Swiss winning the 2004 final and the Russian edging a classic semi a year later en-route to the title.
But Federer won their previous three meetings, including last year’s Wimbledon semifinal, and now holds a 10-2 record in a rivalry stretching back to 2001.
”It’s special to play Marat, we go way back,” Federer said. ”I think we like playing each other. Doesn’t matter who wins, it’s always a good contest.
”I thought Marat started to play really well towards the end so I’m happy I got through, because it seemed like deja vu.”
Djokovic earlier ran into an unexpected obstacle in 127th-ranked Delic, who won the second set and forced a tense fourth-set tie-break.
”I can’t play perfect tennis. It’s normal to have ups and downs during the tournament and during the matches,” Djokovic said.
Two were arrested as ethnic strife that marred the last two Opens returned with dozens of fans hurling plastic chairs at each other, injuring one woman.
”I’m really sad to hear about it. As I said a couple days ago, there’s absolutely no place for that here. This is a tennis match,” Delic said.
Roddick flattened Santoro (36), who was also playing his last Australian Open with his debut coming back in 1991.
The world number eight will play Tommy Robredo in the fourth round after the Spanish 21st seed ended the giant-killing run of Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
Cilic and del Potro, both 1,98m, both 20 and born just five days apart, will duel on Sunday in a shoot-out between the two young guns.
Del Potro, who ended the hopes of Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller in four sets, said it could be the start of an enduring rivalry.
”Djokovic, [Rafael] Nadal played many, many times and hopefully I will play with Cilic many times also,” he said.
Cilic equalled his best Grand Slam result by beating Ferrer, who reached the quarterfinals last year. Czech player Tomas Berdych downed Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka to set up a meeting with Federer.
Top seed Nadal and British world number four Andy Murray are in the other half of the draw and play Tommy Haas and Jurgen Melzer respectively in their third round matches on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Marat’s sister, world number three Dinara Safina, hit her way into the last 16.
Her 6-2 6-2 win over Kaia Kanepi was a triumph of force over finesse. She plays Alize Cornet next after the Frenchwoman beat Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.
The 10th-seeded Nadia Petrova sauntered through in double-quick time when injured Galina Voskoboeva quit after losing the first set 6-1. She plays compatriot Vera Zvonareva next.
Top seed Jelena Jankovic advanced to the fourth round after overcoming Japan’s Ai Sugiyama 6-4 6-4 in a baseline tussle.– AFP, Reuters