- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

MELBOURNE, Australia | Second-seeded Serena Williams advanced to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open after her fourth-round opponent, Victoria Azarenka, retired because of illness.

Azarenka won the first set 6-3, and Williams was leading 4-2 in the second set when Azarenka, who appeared to be wavering as she attempted to serve, finally retired to end the match.

Williams also took a medical timeout in the second set for an ankle ailment.

She next faces 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian player advanced earlier Monday (Sunday night EST) after her opponent, Zheng Zie of China, injured her wrist and retired.

Roger Federer’s campaign to equal Pete Sampras’ record 14 Grand Slam singles titles was in serious jeopardy in the fourth round Sunday at the Australian Open. On the court where women’s No. 1 Jelena Jankovic was knocked out in the day’s opening match and No. 3 Dinara Safina had to save match points before advancing, Federer appeared to be in trouble against Tomas Berdych.

Not in his mind.

“I wasn’t thinking of losing - that’s for sure,” Federer said after reaching the quarterfinals with a 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win. “The finish line was still very far for Tomas. I knew that. He pushed me to the limit. You’ve got to hang in there - there’s no other solution.”

After breaking the 23-year-old Berdych in the pivotal seventh game of the third set, when the Czech player missed three open volleys and blew five game points, Federer took the momentum.

“In the end, it becomes very mental, and I know that this is where my biggest strengths always come into play,” he said. “That’s why I’m always going to favor myself in a fifth set.”

Federer cut his unforced errors from 13 and 11 in the first two sets to four and three in the next two. He finished with 61 winners to 58 for Berdych.

It was only his fourth career comeback from two sets down and third in a major - the previous in 2001, more than two years before he won the first of his Grand Slam titles. Best of all, he said, it gave him confidence he could go all the way - if pushed - against anyone of the younger brigade.

“It’s good to have five-setters to see where you’re at,” Federer said.

He next faces 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro, seeded eighth from Argentina, who advanced 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 against No. 19 Marin Cilic of Croatia.

Gilles Simon advanced to the quarterfinals Monday when fellow Frenchman and longtime friend Gael Monfils retired after three sets.

Sixth-seeded Simon was leading 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 when No. 12 Monfils withdrew with what appeared to be an injured right hand or arm.

In the opening women’s match, Carla Suarez Navarro reached the quarterfinals after a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 21 Anabel Medina Garrigues. She next plays Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva, who beat Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-2.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia jumped to a 5-0 lead Sunday, then was pushed the rest of the way in a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory against 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus. He next will play American Andy Roddick, who ousted No. 21 Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-1, 6-3.

The women’s draw is quickly diminishing, with Williams emerging as the favorite to win her 10th Grand Slam. She’s on a streak of winning the Australian title every other year since 2003.

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