A change of venue did not halt Andy Murray’s serene progress at the Australian Open before a major obstacle to the title was amazingly removed from his path.
Murray had played his first two matches on Margaret Court Arena and won both in straight sets to set up a third-round clash with Portugal’s Joao Sousa, who knocked out 32nd seed Martin Klizan.
The sixth seed was required to switch to Hisense Arena this morning, but found the new surroundings equally to his liking, claiming a 6-1, 6-1, 7-5 win in just more than two hours.
And within minutes of that match finishing, 17-time grand slam winner Roger Federer suffered a shock exit at the hands of Italy’s Andreas Seppi, who could face Murray or Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals.
Seppi, who had won just one set from Federer in losing all ten of their previous meetings, will face either Australia’s Nick Kyrgios or Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri in the fourth round.
Murray had beaten Sousa in all three of their previous meetings without dropping a set and a similar result was soon on the cards as the Scot cruised through the opening two sets, with Sousa also needing treatment for a knee injury during the second.
Despite such a commanding position, Murray was furious with himself for not converting two break points early in the third set, branding himself lazy and twice punching himself in the thigh.
His mood improved when he did break for a 3-1 lead, but darkened again when he was broken back in the seventh game, his racquet thrown to the ground in frustration.
Murray regained his composure in time to hold serve and move into a 5-4 lead, although he was unable to take two match points on Sousa’s serve in the following game.
That proved only a temporary blip however, the Olympic champion breaking in the 12th game to seal a 6-1, 6-1, 7-5 win and secure a fourth-round meeting with Dimitrov, who ended his reign as Wimbledon champion in the quarter-finals last year.
Murray said: “I’ve had three quite quick matches which helps but you expect with every round they are going to get tougher so if you can conserve as much energy as possible that’s good.”
Federer had been seeded to face either Murray or Dimitrov in the quarter-finals, and both the Scot and the Bulgarian will sense the draw opening up, with possible semi-final rival opponent Rafael Nadal also looking shaky early on in the fortnight.
Seppi captured the first set of his greatest triumph in just 35 minutes as Federer was uncharacteristically slow to find his groove. And Seppi then seized a break early in the next, putting not only Rod Laver Arena but all of Melbourne Park on alert for a major upset.
Federer broke back but Seppi had the chance to serve for a two-set lead at 5-4 after his illustrious opponent casually disregarded a floated backhand that landed just inside the court.
A heavy net cord allowed Federer to break back for a second time in the set for 5-5. Just when Seppi might have been expected to wilt, instead he took the set to a tie-break with a cool drop shot.
It looked a key juncture in the contest, and Federer struck first, but he gave back the mini-break and Seppi earned set point with a cross-court forehand pass, cementing a two-set lead when the four-time champion bundled a volley wide.
Federer cut his deficit in half after an early break in the third set and solid serving thereafter proved sufficient to bite into Seppi’s lead.
The fourth set was inevitably tense, Seppi going nowhere and forcing the Swiss to serve to stay in the tournament at 5-4 behind, and again at 6-5. Seppi forced deuce twice, but the world No. 46 settled for a tie-break.
After a series of mini breaks had been traded, Federer hooked a backhand yards wide to again give away the advantage, and two huge winners from Seppi gave him the unexpected scalp.
“I just tried to enjoying playing on centre court (Rod Laver Arena) because it’s not often I get the chance,” Seppi said in his post-game interview, televised by Eurosport.
“It was one of the best matches for sure otherwise I can’t win against Roger.
“It’s never comfortable playing against Roger, you never can feel comfortable.
“I was focusing on my service games as I was not getting many chances on his.
“The tie-break was great, especially the last point. I did not think I would get the ball. I thought it was a winner so I don’t know how I hit a winner.”
Seppi could potentially face home favourite Nick Kyrgios in the next round and admits he would relish the chance of facing another partisan crowd.
“It would be great, maybe on this court again, maybe again against all the people.”