Melbourne: Roger Federer survived his first major test of the Australian Open on Wednesday, fending off an inspired Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five enthralling sets to reach his 10th straight semi-final at Melbourne Park.
Having not dropped a set in his four lead-in matches, the Swiss maestro was pushed hard by the flamboyant Frenchman, who stormed back into the match twice with some brilliant shot-making under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.
The 31-year-old Swiss was, however, a model of composure as he broke the Frenchman early in the decider and prevailed 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 to set up a mouth-watering semi-final with Briton Andy Murray.
"It was a tough close for sure, but the whole match was tough. Any set could have gone any way," the 31-year-old said in a courtside interview.
"I feel a bit lucky obviously to come through... but it was a great pleasure to play Jo because he played great too. We haven't played for a year... but I thought he played extremely aggressive."
"I'm a bit in the bad mood because I lost it. But in another way I played a good match. I was solid, I was there every time. I just gave my best today, so I'm proud of that, but I'm not happy to lose, and I already look forward to the next tournament, the next Grand Slam, to try another time."
Federer's ability to coax his 31-year-old legs through a five-set epic has been questioned here, and the Swiss appeared determined to wrap up the match quickly, breaking Tsonga in his opening service game. The athletic Frenchman composed himself, however, breaking back to take the set into a tiebreak.
As Andy Murray marched imperiously into the Australian Open semis for the fourth consecutive year, his coach Ivan Lendl's influence on the third seeded Scot could hardly have been clearer.
The US Open champion's ultra-professional 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jeremy Chardy took him through to his 12th Grand Slam semi-final as he ruthlessly exploited his opponent's weaker backhand with a number of successful raids to the net.
Murray had carried out his game-plan to perfection and within a couple of hours of finishing his match, he was back out on court, practising under the lights to get a feel for the cooler conditions he will experience on Friday.
"I started the match pretty well, I thought," said Murray, who raced to a 4-0 lead. "Then when he got a break back in the first set, I became a bit tight. He's a tough guy to play against because of the nature of his game and his style. He goes for a lot of shots and he can play a couple of games where he misses and then three, four games he's hot and he makes very few errors and puts you under a lot of pressure."
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka won a first-set war of attrition before crushing Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1 to march into the semi-finals. The world No. 1 was pushed to the wall by the 27-year-old Russian, who played more like a two-time Grand Slam winner than her current world No. 75 ranking.
Azarenka established her dominance in the second set, however, to set up a semi-final against American teenager Sloane Stephens, who sent shockwaves through the tournament by upsetting Serena Williams. Azarenka has now qualified for her fourth semis appearance in the last five Grand Slams, but despite the absence of Serena, may still need to battle to keep her world No. 1 ranking from Maria Sharapova at Melbourne Park.