Flawless Federer barely raises sweat

Swiss master continues to make serene progress on another stinking hot day
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The Independent Online

While some (Henman, Hewitt) have crashed out of the Australian Open and others (Safin, Nadal) did not even show up, Roger Federer has, with the minimum of noise and fuss, been steadily advancing towards his goal: another Grand Slam title.

The Swiss No 1 yesterday added Max Mirnyi to his victims, beating him 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the fourth round. It was another stinking hot day in Melbourne and the roof of the Rod Laver Arena was closed. Despite the air-conditioning, rivers of sweat ran off the Belarussian. Federer, meanwhile, did not even glisten.

He played flawless tennis, and it is difficult to imagine that he will not be contesting the singles final a week today. Indeed, there is no one left to fear in his half of the draw, with Hewitt, the local hero and runner-up to Marat Safin last year, upset in the third round by Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina.

Safin defeated Federer in the 2005 semi-finals at a time when the latter seemed invincible. But the affable Russian is not at Melbourne Park this year, thanks to a knee injury, and neither is Rafael Nadal, the French Open title holder, or Andre Agassi, a four-times Australian Open champion.

Federer's most likely opponent, if he reaches the final, is Andy Roddick, the No 2 seed, who, like Federer, has been progressing smoothly and without fanfare. Also lurking in Roddick's half of the draw is the formidable Argentinian, David Nalbandian.

As for Mirnyi, he has buckets of talent and fought valiantly but was outplayed by the awesome Federer. Among those bowled over by the latter's performance were Jim Courier, who asked him in a courtside interview afterwards whether he had any imperfections.

Federer, who has won six Grand Slams including the 2004 Australian Open, replied: "I'm always late. I struggle to get out of bed, and I can't cook. There are many little things like that."

On court he was close to perfect, getting 79 per cent of his first serves in, making just 10 unforced errors and hitting 48 winners including six aces. He said he was pleased with the tournament so far. "I've not lost a set. Everything is feeling good. I've got no injuries. I'm happy."

Mirnyi used to be Federer's doubles partner, and they won three titles together, so the Swiss player holds no mysteries for him. The "beast of Belarus", as he is known because of his large bulk, has even beaten the top seed a couple of times, but yesterday the gulf between them was evident.

Federer broke serve in the fourth game, serving out the first set in 25 minutes, then added the second set after Mirnyi saved six break points, three of them during a protracted fifth game that went to 10 deuces.

In the third set the Belarussian had his sole break point, which he failed to convert.

The Swiss player next meets Tommy Haas, of Germany, who is unseeded but has been playing impressively at Melbourne Park. Haas yesterday defeated an Australian wild card, Peter Luczak, after knocking out the gifted French teenager and No 14 seed, Richard Gasquet, in the first round. Federer has won four of their six previous encounters, but said the match would definitely not be "a walk in the park".

Joining them in the fourth round are Nikolay Davydenko, the No 5 seed, Dominik Hrbaty, the No 12 seed, and Nicolas Kiefer of Germany, who defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero, the No 15 seed. Also departing early is Guillermo Coria, the No 6 seed, who lost to France's Sébastian Grosjean in four sets.

In the women's draw, Martina Hingis continued her Grand Slam comeback with an efficient 6-4, 6-1 victory over Iveta Benesova. Kim Clijsters, the No 2 seed, advanced, as did Patty Schnyder, the No 7 seed. Anastasia Myskina, ranked 12th, and Francesca Schiavone of Italy, the No 15 seed are also through.

Conditions proved too much for the Dutch teenager, Michaella Krajicek, who retired with heat stress after losing the first set 6-2 to the French No 3 seed, Amélie Mauresmo.