Dokic saga eclipses Jankovic exit

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The Independent Online

Jelena Jankovic arrived at the Australian Open as the world No 1. Her fellow Serb, Jelena Dokic, a naturalised Australian, is the world No 187 and had to win a wild-card play-off tournament to earn her place here.

By the close of play yesterday, however, it was Dokic and not Jankovic celebrating safe passage into the quarter-finals. While Jankovic became the first female top seed to go out of the tournament at such an early stage for 12 years when she was beaten 6-1, 6-4 by France's Marion Bartoli, Dokic extended her extraordinary run by beating Alisa Kleybanova 7-5, 5-7, 8-6 to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2002.

Dokic's story has captured the imagination of an Australian public desperate for home success. The 25-year-old, who first came to prominence when she knocked Martina Hingis out of Wimbledon 10 years ago, has poured out her heart over the last week, describing her fight against depression and the break-up of her family following estrangement from her domineering father, Damir. The former world No 4 has been front-page news almost every day. Yesterday's papers quoted Damir saying from his home in Serbia that he hoped to come to Melbourne if Jelena makes the final.

"It's the first I've heard about it," his daughter said last night. "My whole story with him is finished. It would have to be an unbelievable miracle for him to change. I don't see that happening. I have my tennis and I have my life. I want to do it that way. Knowing him, I just don't see any possibilities. We are really different and disagree on pretty much everything."

The latest instalment in the Dokic saga lasted more than three hours as Russia's Kleybanova, the world No 31, became the third seed in succession to lose to her. With 13 breaks of serve and a total of 96 unforced errors the quality of the tennis frequently dipped, although the excitement did not.

Taken to a deciding set for the third match in succession, Dokic seemed on her way out when she trailed 1-3 and 0-30 but dug deep. She looked exhausted by the end and was moving with difficulty after turning her ankle. "I really struggled physically," she said. "I was on my last reserves."

Dokic now faces Dinara Safina, who was involved in drama of her own. The No 3 seed beat France's Alize Cornet 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, but only after trailing 5-2 in the final set and saving two match points. ''The game is there, I just don't know what's going on through my mind,'' Safina said. ''Somebody should smack me so hard in my head that something shakes finally and I put the cables together.''

Jankovic was outpowered by Bartoli, who beat another world No 1, Justine Henin, at Wimbledon two years ago. The 23-year-old Serb blamed her lack of preparation. Her only scheduled pre-Melbourne appearance was at an exhibition event in Hong Kong, which she missed because of sickness.

Twelve months ago Roger Federer's hopes of victory here were scuppered by ill health. Although he did not know it at the time, the former world No 1 was suffering from glandular fever.

On the middle weekend last year Federer laboured to beat Janko Tipsarevic in five sets. He was taken the distance again yesterday, but saw his achievement in coming back from two sets down to beat Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 as a positive sign. ''It's good to have five-setters to see where you're at,'' Federer said. ''I was still feeling fresh in the fifth. That's the way I want to feel in a fifth set.' Although Federer's resilience was to be admired, this was a performance that added to the feeling the Swiss is not the man he was. For two sets he looked sluggish and uncomfortable under Berdych's baseline bombardment.

''He put me under a lot of pressure, but thank God I was able to react,'' Federer said. ''He has the most powerful shots in the game. You combine serve, forehand and backhand and it's incredible how he finds that pace with little effort.'' However, Federer had dropped only one set in seven previous meetings with Berdych since losing to him at the Athens Olympics five years ago and for all his physical prowess the 23-year-old Czech has a limited game. When Federer's comeback gained momentum, Berdych's spirit evaporated like a puddle in the Melbourne sun.

It was only the fourth time that Federer has come back to win a match from two sets down. The most recent occasion was against Rafael Nadal in a final in Miami four years ago. It is eight years since he last did so at a Grand Slam event, against Sargis Sargsian at the French Open. Next up for Federer is Juan Martin del Potro, who became the youngest men's quarter-finalist here since Richard Krajicek in 1992 when he beat Marin Cilic, another 20-year-old, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Marcos Baghdatis, who played in a match that finished at 4.34am here last year and another that ended at 1.14am on Saturday morning, last week described the late scheduling of his matches as "a pain in the arse". The 2006 runner-up was involved in another late show yesterday when his fourth-round tie against Novak Djokovic ended at 2.26am. Djokovic, the defending champion, won 6-1, 7-6, 6-7, 6-2 to set up a quarter-final against Andy Roddick.

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