-- MELBOURNE, Australia -- If this were 2012, Roger Federer and Andy Murray would have been on course to meet in the Australian Open final. And, if not for top-seeded Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal that year, they would have.
Instead, Federer and Murray landed in separate semifinals, as they so often did, and the Big Four continued its streak that has accounted for the tournament champion in 34 of the past 35 majors and for the finalists in 25 of the past 26.
With Federer now ranked sixth in the world and Murray still fourth, the two are headed for a quarterfinal clash in Melbourne that arguably would mean more to them than any quarterfinal in a while.
For Murray, it should hardly be a problem as the 2013 Wimbledon champ will meet France's Stephane Robert, who at 33 is the first man to make the fourth round after losing in qualifying and getting in as a "lucky loser" (after another player withdrew).
Both Federer and Murray came into the 2014 season after having back issues last year. Federer said two months of rest and treatment helped his back problems this past spring, and Murray had surgery after the US Open. Both speak carefully about expectations.
"It's great winning any match, really," said Federer, who tied Guillermo Vilas for third place in career tour victories with Saturday's win and would become the second man after Roy Emerson to win five Australian Open titles should he capture the title. "I hope I can keep going and win more matches on tour. Clearly it's nice being compared with some of the greatest players of all time sometimes."
Murray has had three three-set wins.
"Today was a big step up for me," he said. "Feliciano is a top-30 player. He's a tricky opponent to play. I know I have a good record against him, but it doesn't change the fact he's not an easy guy to play against. … So it was a good test for me, and I did well."