MELBOURNE: A stunned Roger Federer was dumped out of the Australian Open Friday in his worst showing since 2001 as Andy Murray, Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep battled to stay in the title hunt.
In the tournament’s biggest upset, the Swiss world number two had no answer to unseeded Italian Andreas Seppi, who he had conquered in their past 10 meetings.
“Just a bad day. I wish I could have played better but clearly it was tough losing the first two sets,” Federer said after crashing out in the third round.
“I had chances to get back into it but let it slip. It’s a disappointing loss.”
The defeat was the 17-time Grand Slam winner’s earliest exit in Melbourne in 14 years and aside from his second round Wimbledon flop in 2013, was the Swiss legend’s worst performance at a major in more than a decade.
Federer was chasing his fifth Australian Open crown, but has now not won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2012.
He started sluggishly and from when he was broken to love in the first set, giving Seppi a 5-4 lead, it was clear something was amiss with Federer’s game.
“I just tried to do my best and it was one of my best matches for sure to win against Roger,” said the 46th ranked Seppi, who had only taken one set off Federer in their previous 10 matches.
In contrast, sixth seed Murray banked another straight-sets win, powering into the fourth round at the expense of Portugal’s Joao Sousa, 6-1, 6-1, 7-5.
The Scot has yet to be seriously tested at Melbourne Park, with a first-match tiebreak the closest he has come to dropping a set.
He will next meet Bulgarian 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov, who struggled against the 2006 Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis with the fired-up Cypriot pushing him to five gruelling sets.
Murray has now reached the round of 16 for the seventh consecutive year as he bids to track down an elusive Australian title after losing to Federer in the 2010 final and Novak Djokovic in 2011 and 2013.
“I lost to Roger and to Novak a couple of times against some of the best ever players here and playing in front of a packed arena here is always fun,” Murray said.
“Grigor has improved a lot over the last couple of years and it should be a fun match.”
Dimitrov, Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend, looked headed for defeat when Baghdatis won the third set before rallying to claim an exhausting 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.
“I’m not going to hide my excitement of winning the match because it meant a lot to me,” the 23-year-old Bulgarian said.
Rafael Nadal plays in a night match Friday, as does Sharapova.
Not pretty tennis
Rising star Bouchard also progressed, but made heavy work of downing France’s Caroline Garcia, taking 56 minutes to get through the first set before moving up a gear to win 7-5, 6-0.
“I don’t think it was the prettiest tennis out there today,” admitted the seventh seeded Canadian, who has a big fan base in Australia.
Bouchard is seen as one of the new generation tipped to take the reins from the old guard of Serena Williams and Sharapova, with Dimitrov regarded as a contender in the men’s game.
Third seed Halep limped through against American world number 258 Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The 23-year-old, a quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park last year, prevailed 6-4, 7-5 and will next meet Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer.
Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych, a semi-finalist last year, was a more convincing winner, powering past Serb Viktor Troicki 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Under the radar women’s 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova, a quarter-finalist in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013 and a US Open semi-finalist last year, booked her place in the last 16 by beating Karolina Pliskova in straight sets. (AFP)