The easy part is over for Roger Federer. the US Open is about to get a lot harder for the Swiss master.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion is through to the quarter-finals and in majestic form, but most of his main rivals are too. Only Andy Murray has made an early exit.
Federer booked his place in the last eight with a 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 win over Jurgen Melzer at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday without ever having to play at his best.
It will take a mighty performance from his rivals to stop him capturing a sixth title at Flushing Meadows, but there are some willing challengers ahead.
His next opponent is Robin Soderling, the big-hitting Swede who ended Federer’s French Open defense earlier in the season.
If he gets through that, Federer could then face Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, who beat him in the semi-finals at the Australian Open in 2008.
There is also Rafa Nadal, as always, lurking on the other side of the draw if they both reach the final. Federer may be the greatest player of all time, but nothing is ever assured.
Soderling and Djokovic also moved through to the quarter-finals by winning on Monday.
Soderling overcame Albert Montanes, one of six Spaniards who made the last 16 of the men’s draw, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
It was a workmanlike performance but Djokovic was all class and looks the more threatening. The world No. 3 demolished the improving American Mardy Fish 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 and is steadily building momentum and confidence.
Caroline Wozniacki cleared one of the major hurdles in her bid to win the women’s title when she eased past an error-prone Maria Sharapova, who is still battling to regain her best form after struggling with injuries for the past two seasons.
Sharapova was soundly beaten 6-3, 6-4, but contributed to her own downfall with 36 unforced errors and nine double faults, including three in successive points.
She was one of two former US Open champions from Russia who were beaten in straight sets. Svetlana Kuznetsova also departed, losing 7-5, 7-6 to diminutive Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, leaving Vera Zvonareva to fly the flag.
Federer is yet to drop a set in the tournament and hardly got out of second gear against Melzer.
He did have some problems with his serve and was broken once each in the first and third sets but was able to raise his game when it mattered.
In other developments, Taiwan’s Chan Yung-jan and her Chinese partner Zheng Jie advanced to the women’s doubles quarter-finals yesterday. They beat Polana Hercog from Slovenia and Petra Martic from Croatia 6-2, 6-3.
The seventh-seeded Chan and Zheng will face 15th-seeded US players Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy in the quarter-finals.
Also yesterday, Chan and Australian partner Paul Hanley lost to Mattek-Sands and Canadian Daniel Nestor 6-4, 6-3 in the mixed doubles.
It will be Chan’s first appearance in the quarterfinals at any grand slam since 2008 at Wimbledon. She made it to the final of the 2007 US Open women’s doubles event with Taiwanese partner Chuang Chia-jung.
Zheng made it to the quarterfinals of the women’s doubles event at the US Open four times between 2005 and last year, but has never been able to advance further. She won women’s doubles titles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open with Chinese partner Yan Zi in 2006.
Meanwhile, Djokovic, getting better with each match after a shaky start to the tournament, provided a reminder of the form that saw him reach the final in 2007 then capture his maiden Grand Slam in Melbourne the following year with his best performance of the championship.