When Vitas Gerulaitis beat Jimmy Connors at Madison Square Garden in 1980, ending a run of 16 consecutive defeats against his fellow American, he was asked how he had finally managed to overcome his nemesis. Gerulaitis broke into a grin and replied: "Because nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row."
Lleyton Hewitt might wonder whether he will ever have the opportunity to answer a similar question, though the chances of ending his losing run against Roger Federer look remote. No other current players have met as often as the Australian and the Swiss, who registered his 15th successive victory over his fellow 28-year-old here last night, winning 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
This was their 25th meeting. Hewitt gave Federer more trouble than anyone in their early days, winning eight of their first 10 matches. His last victory was here in a Davis Cup semi-final seven years ago.
Hewitt, however, has not been in the world's top 10 since June 2006. Dogged by injury, he has won just one minor title in the last three years. He has worked hard to climb back to No 22 in the rankings, but there is not the same zip and flair about him these days. From the moment Federer aced Hewitt on the first point, the world No 1 was in charge. Federer took the first set with a rasping crosscourt forehand and within an hour and a half wrapped up victory.
"He played special tennis," Hewitt said. "I just couldn't get into his service games. He hasn't played too many bad matches against me." Federer now meets Nikolay Davydenko, who until two months ago was on a similar run to Hewitt, having lost all 12 of his meetings with the world No 1. Davydenko, however, beat Federer for the first time at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November and followed that up with victory in the Qatar Open semi-finals earlier this month.
The Russian did not drop a set in his first three matches here, but almost let slip a winning position against Fernando Verdasco yesterday before winning 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7, 6-3. Novak Djokovic progressed with a minimum of fuss, beating Poland's Lukasz Kubot 6-1, 6-2, 7-5, and will now meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a rematch of their 2008 final. Tsonga beat Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 9-7.
The Williams sisters remain on course for a semi-final showdown. Venus beat Francesca Schiavone to earn a quarter-final against Li Na, who in following Zheng Jie's example ensured that China would have two players in the last eight of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time by beating Caroline Wozniacki. Serena Williams beat Sam Stosur 6-4 6-2.
Laura Robson beat Australia's Belinda Woolcock 6-0, 6-1 in the first round of the junior singles.