Turn back the clock for Roger Federer


In recent years, a mere handful of men have monopolized these precious Grand Slams.

Since Marat Safin summoned the strength to take down national hero Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open final nine years ago, there have been only five different Grand Slam singles champions. You know their names: Roger Federer (13), Rafael Nadal (13), Novak Djokovic (6), Andy Murray (2) and Juan Martin del Potro (1).

In terms of life outside professional tennis, they are all still relatively young men. But in this demanding arena, the field already is closing in, the monstrous gap is closing. In a matter of a few years, there will be a handful of new names to replace them.

On Monday in Melbourne, you could see the inevitable process at work in the top half of the men's draw. Although most of those aging favorites find themselves in their usual berths in the quarterfinals, it was hardly a comfortable journey. No. 1 seed Nadal survived the longest men's three-set singles match of the fortnight so far (3 hours, 17 minutes) plus a ghastly looking blister and an unprecedented snapped shoe lace. The No. 4 Murray needed four match points -- and a cracked racket -- to get past a Lucky Loser.

Oddly enough, the exception was the No. 6-seeded Federer. He's 32 years old, but maybe now we can stop feeling sorry for him. Monday night in Rod Laver Arena, he memorably channeled the champion he once was, thrashing No. 10 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3 7-5, 6-4.

It was the best he has looked against a formidable opponent, he admitted, in at least a year.

"Yeah, I mean, I'm very pleased," Federer told reporters after the match. "Don't think I got broken today. That against a great player. So, yeah, I'm extremely happy how things went for me tonight. I was able to play my game, offensive, mix it up, come to the net. Yeah, I was surprised that things worked out for me."

Although the women's draw is in tatters -- No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 3 Maria Sharapova departed on consecutive days and five of the top eight seeds failed to reach the quarterfinals. Seven of the top eight men's seeds, however, are through to the final eight. No. 22 seed Grigor Dimitrov, the ascendant 22-year-old Bulgarian, is the only interloper, taking the place of fallen No. 5 seed del Potro.

The sparkling quarterfinal matchups feature Nadal versus Dimitrov, whom the Spaniard called "amazing" in his on-court interview and "the next great thing" in tennis. Murray meets the resurgent Federer and in the bottom half, it's the No. 2-seeded Djokovic opposite his dogged foil, No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka, and No. 3 David Ferrer against No. 6 Tomas Berdych.

Federer, who hit 43 winners, was understandably happy and relaxed in his on-court interview with Jim Courier, representing Australia's Channel 7.

"It's been a good ride," Federer said. "I thought I played really well tonight. Clearly, against Jo-Willie you have to bring your best game. You have to dictate the pace."

Later, he told ESPN's Pam Shriver his mindset was, "Let me start aggressive here and see what happens. It's been a tough six months. You never know what to expect."

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