Australia likes adopting European players, whether officially or unofficially. Anastasia Rodionova, who was born in Russia, and Jarmila Groth, from Slovakia, have both been given Australian citizenship in recent weeks, while Kim Clijsters, through her former engagement to Lleyton Hewitt, and Ana Ivanovic, by dint of her family connections in Melbourne, were quickly dubbed "Aussie Kim" and "Aussie Ana".
It was revealed yesterday that even the greatest of them all might have set up camp by a billabong under the shade of a coolibah tree. After reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open here with a 6-3 6-4 6-4 victory over Albert Montanes, Roger Federer said that his parents had considered emigrating Down Under when he was a teenager.
"I remember my parents having a debate: are we moving from Switzerland to come live here?" Federer said. "We went on a big vacation through Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns to get a better idea of the country. Beautiful vacation – but in the end we decided to stay in Switzerland."
How the Australians could do with Federer, who also has South African citizenship through his mother. Hewitt and Sam Stosur, who reached the fourth round yesterday with victories over Marcos Baghdatis and Alberta Brianti respectively, are the only Aussies left in singles competition and are not likely to be around much longer. Stosur's next opponent is Serena Williams, the world No 1, while Hewitt faces Federer, who has beaten him 14 times in a row.
Federer faltered in his opener here against Igor Andreev but has coasted through his subsequent matches. Montanes, the world No 32, never looked capable of stopping the Swiss extending his remarkable record of reaching the last 16 of every Grand Slam since he lost in the third round of the French Open six years ago.
"I don't want to say I'm playing the best tennis of my life, because I haven't had to so far," Federer said. "I feel like I'm fresh and ready to take on the bigger names."
Hewitt completed his victory over Baghdatis in considerably quicker time than on the equivalent Saturday two years ago, when the Australian defeated the Cypriot at 4.34am. Hewitt was leading 6-0 4-2 last night when Baghdatis retired with a shoulder injury.
Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko underlined their status as the two strongest challengers in Federer's half of the draw with emphatic victories. Djokovic, who won the title here two years ago, steamrollered Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, winning 6-1 6-1 6-2. The Serb now plays Poland's Lukasz Kubot, whose scheduled opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, withdrew with a wrist injury.
"It was good to have a match like this," Djokovic said. "At some stage in the tournament you want to have a straight-sets win, an easy win, so you can get off the court fast and try to save as much energy as you can for the upcoming challenges."
Having played 97 matches last year – more than any other player – Djokovic is delighted to keep his time on court to a minimum. "I got fed up, to be honest, with tournaments and matches," he said. "I didn't have a lot of time really to recover and just to relax like most of the top players."
Davydenko has yet to drop a set and extended that sequence with an emphatic 6-0 6-3 6-4 win over Juan Monaco. The Russian will now play Fernando Verdasco, a semi-finalist here 12 months ago. Verdasco had taken the first set against Stefan Koubek when his Austrian opponent, who was suffering from a virus, retired.
The Williams sisters remain on course for a semi-final confrontation, Serena crushing Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0 6-3 and Venus beating Casey Dellacqua 6-1 7-6 to set up a fourth-round meeting with Francesca Schiavone. The sisters have yet to drop a set here this year.
Serena's victory would have been much quicker but for a remarkable game at the end of the first set. It featured 13 deuces, the world No 1 winning on her eighth set point. At nearly 20 minutes the game took longer than the previous five combined. Suarez Navarro made Williams work for her victory in the second set, though the result was never in doubt.
China will have two players in the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time. Zheng Jie earned her place in the last 16 by beating Marion Bartoli and Li Na joined her by beating Daniela Hantuchova 7-5 3-6 6-2.
Li has spent most evenings dining out in Melbourne's Chinatown and found one restaurant that matched her appetite for spicy food, though she may not return in a hurry. "I ate there two days in a row, but now my stomach feels so bad," she said.
Britain's Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski suffered a disappointing second-round defeat in the doubles, losing to Michael Kohlmann and Jarkko Nieminen despite taking the first set. Elena Baltacha, partnering Liga Dekmeijere, and Ross Hutchins, partnering Liezel Huber, lost in the women's and mixed doubles respectively.