A change of venue failed to 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 encounter with Portugal’s Joao Sousa in Melbourne.
The sixth seed was required to switch to Hisense Arena yesterday but found the new surroundings equally to his liking, claiming a 6-1 6-1 7-5 win in just over two hours.
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 10 of their previous meetings, will face Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, the world No 53, in the fourth round.
“I just saw it, the match point, when I went out to cool down,” said Murray, who lost to Federer in the quarter-finals 12 months ago. “It’s obviously surprising, but upsets happen in sport daily.
“It’s just something that maybe because of the consistency of some of the guys in tennis people make a huge thing of it. But in sport in general it happens all the time, and pretty much on a daily basis.
“I don’t know if Roger played badly or if Seppi played unbelievable. But if Roger was not playing so well, it’s quite easy to lose at this level.”
Murray knows that from bitter experience of his next opponent Dimitrov, who ended the Scot’s reign as Wimbledon champion in the quarter-finals last year.
“It will be a tough match obviously,” added Murray, who will be in action tomorrow. “He’s played well in the slams the last year or so. He’s obviously a talented player. He’s one of the young guys trying to make a breakthrough, so he’ll be motivated. Hopefully I can play a good match and make it tough for him.”
Dimitrov beat a subdued Murray in straight sets at the All England Club but is expecting to face a far tougher challenge this time.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said the 23-year-old, whose girlfriend Maria Sharapova also reached the fourth round. “I think you hardly ever see top players feel really flat early on in the match.
“That day it was not him out there on the court. I think we all know that. I think it’s a different scenario this time. It just happened for me on that day to really play good. I used every single mistake that he did. I’m sure in the next round he’s going to be really focused and composed and wants to do everything to stop me.
“I think he has a lot to look forward to. I think adding up the new (coaching) team, I think it’s all fresh. I think it’s going to give him a bit more excitement to compete. But, at the same time, I feel that I’m pretty stable around me as well.
“It’s a great match-up for me. I’m always excited to play against him. I always like that kind of challenge. I think physically and mentally I’m ready to play that match and really give 100 per cent.
“We always had good battles. We know how we play, so there’s no secrets out on the court, which in a way is nice to have.”
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.
Murray was not about to take his foot off the accelerator and was furious 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 racket 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 victory.
“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,” added Murray.