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Melbourne Highlights - Day 8

by Alexandra Willis
Monday 23 January 2012

Just as WTA fans were planning their dream quarter-finals, the main contenders all seeming to stride through for some mouth-watering matchups, Serena Williams was sent packing from Melbourne Park.

Handed her first loss at the Australian Open since the 2008 quarter-finals, Serena encountered a blonde bombshell in the form of Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who out-thumped the five-time champion 6-2, 6-3 in a startlingly hour and a bit.

As Serena admitted afterwards, the match was on her own racket, her 37 unforced errors, including a very unusual seven double faults, making life a lot easier for Makarova. But the Russian played her part too, cleaning the lines with her groundstrokes in the heat of the day.

Serena's serve, she said, was "horrendous", but she did take heart from the fact that had she played better, and lost, she would have been far more worried.

Thus there will be no Americans in the last eight of either men's or women's singles draws in Melbourne for the first time since 1973, when there were none entered. A sobering thought, perhaps.

Russian Maria Sharapova had better luck, successfully fending off the challenge of German Sabine Lisicki in a repeat of their 2011 Wimbledon semi-final.

Sharapova started brightly to move ahead 3-0, only for Lisicki to come bombing back, winning six games on the bounce to take the first set. But Sharapova proved her mettle on the court she triumphed on four years ago, coming through 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

The day's other two fourth round match-ups saw reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova keep alive her chances of becoming the world No.1 with a straight sets win over Ana Ivanovic. Having taken the first set 6-2, the 21-year-old survived her now customary mid-match wander in the second set against the much-improved Serb, eventually tearing through the tie-break 7-1.

Quietest horse of the quarter however is Italian Sara Errani, who won the battle of the diminutive folk against Zheng Jie, semi-finalist here in 2010. It is the first time Errani has made it to the last eight of a Slam, describing it as "incredible".

It all means that for the first Grand Slam event since 2009, the top four women's seeds have all progressed to the quarter-finals. Consistency.

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In the men's event, Andy Murray had one of the easiest days he'll ever have on a tennis court, as an injured Mikhail Kukushkin could do nothing to curb the Scot's enthusiasm, going down 1-6, 1-6, 1-0 before retiring with a hip flexor injury.

Murray headed straight back out to practice to get a decent workout and work on some things ahead of his third straight quarter-final in Melbourne.

The Scot will be taking on Japan's Kei Nishikori, the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam singles quarter-final since Shuzo Matsuoko advanced to the Wimbledon quarters in 1995. Nishikori, a product of the Bollettieri Academy who Murray admitted he had seen hitting the gym a lot recently, knocked out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five very hot sets in the afternoon heat.

The third spot was claimed by David Ferrer, who had a far simpler afternoon against Richard Gasquet, coming through in straight sets. This tournament was the making of Ferrer last year, the hard-working Spaniard defeating Rafael Nadal in the quarters to reach the semi-finals. Will he be able to repeat the feat this year?

Standing in his way will be Novak Djokovic, the defending champion finally ending Lleyon Hewitt's fairytale tear into the fourth round. Blistering through the first set 6-1, things got a little tighter in the second, and even tighter in the third, when Hewitt bounced back to take the first set off Djokovic all tournament. Suddenly looking like the impossible might be possible, Hewitt fought tooth and nail right to the last, giving the Rod Laver Arena crowd the match of the day by a long way. Djokovic prevailed, but it was a fitting farewell for the Aussie in 2012. He will be back.

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Colin Fleming, the lone senior British representative besides Andy Murray, is through to the mixed doubles quarter-finals with Liezel Huber. Fleming and the American take on tricky Indian combination Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza.

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For all the reports and results from Melbourne Park, visit the Official Australian Open website


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