Murray and Federer head for Australian Open collision
Neither man will be taking anything for granted, but Andy Murray and Roger Federer are heading inexorably towards a semi-final showdown here at the Australian Open.
The Scot and the Swiss have yet to drop a set in this year's tournament and both took merciless advantage of their opponents' physical problems yesterday to reach the quarter-finals.
Murray beat Gilles Simon, who had little left to give after his marathon five-set victory over Gaël Monfils two days earlier, and Federer eased past Milos Raonic, who had a pain-killing injection in his foot before the match.
While Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 and defending champion, laboured for five hours to beat Stanislas Wawrinka on Sunday and faces a tricky quarter-final today against the big-hitting Tomas Berdych, Murray and Federer have coasted through their first four matches. Murray has been on court for a total of just over seven hours, while Federer is the only player in the tournament who has not had his serve broken.
Federer, who beat Raonic 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 to reach his 35th Grand Slam quarter-final in succession, is likely to be pushed much harder in his next match when he faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who upset him at the same stage at Wimbledon two years ago.
Murray also faces French opposition in 25-year-old Jérémy Chardy, who followed up his victory over Juan Martin del Potro by knocking out Italy's Andreas Seppi. The world No 36, who will be playing in his first Grand Slam quarter-final, has lost four of his five matches against Murray, although he won their most recent meeting in Cincinnati last summer.
"I normally play quite well against him," Murray said yesterday after needing only 95 minutes to beat Simon 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. "But he's playing good tennis. He's had some big wins this week. He serves well. He's very aggressive off his forehand. His backhand is his weaker side, for sure. He hits a lot of slice, doesn't come over it too much. He likes to come forward.
"He can be erratic, but when his game is on, like it's been the last few rounds, he's a very tough player to play because he doesn't give you too much rhythm. And he really goes for it."
Chardy said his confidence was high. "I know I can beat everybody," he said. "When I feel confident, I believe in myself. Against Del Potro, I played a very good match. So it was good for my head."
Players sometimes like to be tested in their early matches, but Murray is quite happy not to have been stretched like Djokovic was. However, he does not believe that too much can be read into the manner of victories in the early rounds.
"Some Slams I've started off really, really well and some I had some tough patches in," he said. "At Wimbledon last year there was one set maybe, against [Ivo] Karlovic, or an hour and a half period where it was tight. The [Marcos] Baghdatis match was fairly tough as well.
"Sometimes at the Australian Open I've started really well and got through to the second week without dropping a set. It doesn't really matter. Roger hasn't lost a set either yet and I'm sure will be happy with where he's at, so you just have to wait and see whether you're up to it when the time comes. But I hope I'll be ready."
With the semi-finals and final played at night, the scheduling so far has favoured Federer. All of Murray's matches have been in the day, while Federer's last three have been at night.
"Ideally, it would be nice to get a match in the evening but, if not, you just get on with it," Murray (right) said. "Sometimes the schedule works well for you and sometimes it doesn't work out perfectly. I've had scenarios like at the US Open where it worked in my favour. Wimbledon didn't necessarily work in my favour this year or last year and the first US Open final I played it didn't work in my favour. But you don't dictate the schedule. You just try and play and deal with everything as best you can."
He added: "The thing that's good about playing in the day, especially here, is that when you do play in the evening the conditions feel fine to play in. The thing you just need to get used to is the timing of the ball and the speed of the courts. They change when it's dark. Even tonight it got quite cool, once the sun went away."
The result against Simon was barely in doubt from the moment Murray broke serve in the opening game. The world No 16 had looked a physical wreck after needing four hours and 43 minutes to beat Monfils on Saturday and admitted after "a painful hour and a half on the court" that he had been in no state to take on Murray. The Scot has now beaten him 10 times in a row. The only player who has lost as many matches to him is Federer.
Raonic, aged 22, is seen by many as the best of the next generation, but the big-serving Canadian was swept aside in a barrage of winners by Federer. Raonic played with a local anaesthetic to ease the pain of a foot injury and said he had nearly pulled out of the match.
Federer was more than happy with his own form. "I felt good out there," he said. "I was moving well, had good anticipation and reactions, which was obviously key on the return."