Melbourne: Novak Djokovic bounced back from a marathon five-setter just 48 hours earlier as he skated into the Australian Open semi-finals with a comfortable win over Tomas Berdych on Tuesday.
The Serbian world number one, chasing a hat-trick of Australian crowns, showed no ill-effects of his torrid five-hour dogfight with Stanislas Wawrinka as he beat the Czech fifth seed, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two and half hours.
Djokovic now faces a semi-final on Thursday against Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer, who beat countryman Nicolas Almagro in five sets earlier on Tuesday.
Most interest centred on how Djokovic would recover after his epic fourth-round match with Wawrinka, but he dispelled fears by easily claiming the opening set for the loss of one game in 29 minutes.
Berdych broke the Serb in the opening game and went on to level the match by taking the second set, but it was all Djokovic in the closing two sets.
Djokovic finished with six breaks of the strong Berdych service and hit 47 winners with just 25 unforced errors, while the Czech conceded 43 errors.
“It was a great performance. I was hoping to have a shorter match, whoever won tonight, as long as it didn’t go over five hours,” he joked.
“It was always going to be tough against Tomas. He’s an established top-10 player for the last five or six years and he has a big game, big serve. If he’s on he can win against anybody.
“I was aware of his qualities and I came out and played my best tennis and I’m really happy with my performance.”
Djokovic revealed that he didn’t get to sleep until 5am after his last marathon night match and he had accelerated his recovery by taking ice baths.
“It takes a lot of time after a match like that, it’s so physically exhausting and demanding along with mentally and emotionally, so you try to do everything that night to recover,” he said.
“We did a great job because tonight I felt ready and fit.”
It was Djokovic’s 12th win over Berdych in 13 meetings with the Czech’s only win coming on grass in the semi-finals of Wimbledon 2010.
The victory clinched Djokovic’s 11th consecutive Grand Slam semi-final and he is 9-5 in matches against Ferrer.
The battling Spaniard had clawed back from two sets down at the on Tuesday after his fellow countryman Nicolas Almagro blew a golden chance to reach his first major semi-final in 34 attempts.
Tenth seed Almagro outplayed the world number five, whom he has never beaten, in the opening two sets and served for the match three times, only to falter on each occasion.
Ferrer seized the lifeline and finished too strongly for his Davis Cup team-mate, clinching it with two service breaks in the fifth set as he won 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in 3hr 44min.
The never-say-die Ferrer will now take on defending champion Novak Djokovic, who overcame Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych in four sets in the night quarter-final.
It will be Ferrer’s second semi-final appearance at the Australian Open after beating celebrated compatriot Rafael Nadal in the 2011 quarter-finals, while his victory over Almagro was his 500th tour-level career match win.
Almagro was poised for his first victory over Ferrer at the 13th try, and his first Grand Slam semi-final, before he tightened as he served out for the match.
His choke evoked memories of Sebastian Grosjean’s spectacular collapse when fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement saved two match points in the third set of their 2001 semi-final in Melbourne and went on to win in five.
Almagro was broken for the first time in the match and again in his next service game to throw away the third set and open the door for Ferrer to surge back into the quarter-final.
There were eight service breaks in the fourth set before Ferrer levelled the match in the tie-breaker and then polished off the cramping Almagro in the fifth to complete a fighting victory.
“It was a miracle that I won this match. Nicolas had a lot of chances to beat me and I tried to fight for every point,” Ferrer said.
“I know all the players in important moments are nervous. Today I was close to losing, but finally I come back.
“I’m always trying to do my best, to fight a lot. If I lost, I would like to go down fighting. I never give in.”
Ferrer said he remained positive despite the pressure situation.