MELBOURNE, Jan 22: Serbian superman Novak Djokovic remained firmly on course for a third straight Australian Open title on Tuesday after dismantling Tomas Berdych in four sets to set up a last four meeting with Spanish comeback king David Ferrer.
Showing no signs of fatigue from the grinding five-hour duel with Stanislas Wawrinka that ended in the early hours of Monday morning, Djokovic defused the big Czech’s big serve 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to progress comfortably to his 11th successive Grand Slam semi-final.
Maria Sharapova was just as impressive as she continued a ruthless march through the women’s draw with a 6-2, 6-2 savaging of Ekaterina Makarova, while Li Na ended Agnieszka Radwanska’s winning streak to continue her love affair with Melbourne Park.
Ferrer staged what he described as a miraculous comeback from two sets down to beat fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 but immediately said he would need something even more spectacular if he was to get to his first Grand Slam final.
Living up to his reputation as the fittest player on the tour, world No 1 Djokovic returned with his usual deftness and moved his 6ft 5in (1.96m) opponent around the court.
The 25-year-old whipped through the first set against fifth seed Berdych quick smart, stalled only a little as he lost the second before racing to victory in two and a half hours, sealing the win with his 10th ace.
Sharapova crushed fellow Russian Makarova in just 66 minutes to set up a last four appointment with Li at a cost of just nine games conceded in the tournament, a record low for the Australian Open.
The second seed and 2008 champion relentlessly pummelled Makarova with a barrage of thumping serves and fierce forehands, leaving the 19th seed scrapping for dignity by the end.
Ferrer stared defeat full in the face three times before taming Almagro after being dominated by some brilliant tennis from the 10th seed for the first two sets.
The fourth seed looked to be heading for the exit when he faced Almagro serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set but he hustled along the baseline to claw his way back into the contest.
Twice more Almagro had chances to serve out for victory but he blew them both before suffering a leg injury and Ferrer, who had won all 12 of their previous meetings, emerged a winner after three hours and 44 minutes.
Li reached her third semi-final in four years at the Australian Open with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Radwanska in the opening match of the day.
Radwanska had come into the contest bursting with confidence on a run of 13 successive wins but looked underpowered as she was bludgeoned into submission by Li in the 102-minute contest.
Results (prefix number denotes seeding): Men’s singles: Quarter-finals: 1-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) bt 5-Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4; 4-David Ferrer (Spain) bt 10-Nicolas Almagro (Spain) 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Women’s singles: Quarter-finals: 2-Maria Sharapova (Russia) bt 19-Ekaterina Makarova (Russia) 6-2, 6-2; 6-Li Na (China) bt 4-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) 7-5, 6-3.
Men’s doubles: Quarter-finals: Robin Haase/Igor Sijsling (Netherlands) bt 11-David Marrero/Fernando Verdasco (Spain) 6-4, 7-6 (7-3); 3-Marcel Granollers/Marc Lopez (Spain) bt Thomaz Bellucci (Brazil)/Benoit Paire (France) 6-3, 6-1.
Women’s doubles: Quarter-finals: Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua (Australia) bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia)/Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic) 6-2, 6-3; 1-Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (Italy) bt 12-Serena Williams/Venus Williams (US) 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 7-5; Varvara Lepchenko (US)/Zheng Saisai (China) bt 7-Nuria Llagostera Vives/Zheng Jie (Spain/China) 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Mixed doubles: Second round: 5-Nadia Petrova (Russia)/ Mahesh Bhupathi (India) bt Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia)/Nenad Zimonjic (Serbia) 3-6, 6-2, 10-5 Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan)/Denis Istomin (Uzbekistan) bt Yan Zi (China)/ Santiago Gonzalez (Mexico) 6-2, 6-1.—Reuters