MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Roger Federer took a massive step forward upon his return to the weekly grind of the tennis circuit with his third round thrashing of Tomas Berdych and is enthused at the prospect of facing Kei Nishikori at the Australian Open on Sunday.
Federer, seeded 17th at the season-opening grand slam after a knee injury cut short his 2016 schedule, demolished 10th seed Berdych on Friday to set up his clash with the in-form Nishikori on Rod Laver Arena.
"I'm a big fan of his game. He's got one of the best backhands out there. I love how he can crush it down the line or crosscourt," the 17-times grand slam champion said of the Japanese fifth seed.
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"He's got wonderful second serve returns. He's fast on his legs. Strong in his mind.
"I know how tough he is as the match goes along. He finds his range and his rhythm, he's tough to stop."
The pair will walk onto court well aware that they could be facing world number one Andy Murray in the quarter-finals, with the Briton facing Mischa Zverev in the final match of the day session on the main court.
Murray, who has lost the final at Melbourne Park five times, has undoubtedly been boosted by the shock defeat of six-time champion Novak Djokovic by Denis Istomin, though he thought the Serb's defeat had no bearing on his own progress.
"For me, it doesn't change anything unless I was to potentially reach the final, because I can't play Novak in the fourth round or in the third round," Murray said. "(So I) don't worry about that really."
Murray has been joined in the fourth round by Davis Cup team mate Dan Evans who will face France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a place in the quarter-finals.
"It was a goal to make the fourth round of a slam this year, Evans said. "It's satisfying. But I'm not looking back yet.
"We've got another match on Sunday (and) we'll see what happens then."
Women's champion Angelique Kerber will also seek to keep improving her game after she ironed out some wrinkles with her easy victory over Kristyna Pliskova to set up a fourth-round clash with American Coco Vandeweghe.
"Coco is a tough opponent," the German said. "I know I have to move good, being ready, bring a lot of balls back, but also being aggressive, as well, like I can play."
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)