By Martyn Herman
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Roger Federer was a strictly nocturnal beast throughout the first week of the Australian Open but proved just as effective with the sun on his back as he sauntered into the quarter-finals for the 14th time on Monday.
The defending champion did not require his dazzling best against 80th-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in his first match scheduled during the day session but still emerged a comfortable 6-4 7-6(3) 6-2 winner.
After his earlier-than-usual finish, the 36-year-old world number two said he might even be able to make the most of a night off and take his wife Mirka out for dinner.
“I was considering sunglasses and a towel for the beach but, no, the only thing is the racket strings are a bit tighter but it’s not crazy hot today,” Federer told former champion Jim Courier in a knockabout post-match chat on court.
“It’s a different rhythm playing in the day and not going to bed at 3 a.m. We might go out for dinner tonight but Mirka has left already — she must have other plans!”
Federer’s light mood matched the sunny conditions and he was even reduced to giggles during one point late in the second set when he miss-hit a forehand high into the air, then defended three consecutive Fucsovics smashes to win a bizarre rally.
“This one was the biggest joke of a point maybe I have ever played,” he said later. “Thankfully it didn’t decide the outcome of that second set. That would have been too much of a joke, to be honest.”
Federer is yet to drop a set and did not even face a break point against the 25-year-old Fucsovics, who arrived in Melbourne without a grand slam main draw victory to his name.
Yet his unheralded opponent, bidding to become only the third Hungarian man to reach a grand slam quarter-final in the professional era, offered an all-round display that belied his record, even if it did not surprise Federer.
“I practiced with him for a few days in a row in Switzerland. That helped, you know, knowing his strength and weaknesses a little bit,” he said.
“He was not completely the unknown opponent that maybe people thought he was.
“He hung with me for a long time. So it was a good match.”
Federer was in cruise control in the first set but struck decisively when Fucsovics served at 4-5, squeezing the throttle enough to earn a set point converted with a smash.
Fucsovics kept Federer honest in the second set and played his part in some entertaining rallies to extend the 19-times grand slam champion to a tiebreak.
Federer rifled a running forehand pass to earn three set points and again finished the set at the net, with a smash.
The third set was all over in 31 minutes as Federer raced into the 52nd grand slam quarter-final of his career, booking a last eight encounter against 19th seeded Czech Tomas Berdych.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O’Brien)