MELBOURNE, Australia - Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur faced the best in the business and could be excused for wishing they had skipped work when a half million other Aussies took a day off.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams ended local hopes of breaking a three-decade drought at the Australian Open. The top-ranked Federer beat former No. 1 Hewitt for the 15th straight time, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, last night at Rod Laver Arena. Federer said he'd been playing the Australian since they were 14 and they were old friends.
Williams, the defending champion, beat No. 13 Stosur, 6-4, 6-2, in the previous match on center court.
In quarterfinals played Tuesday, Justine Henin continued her successful comeback, ousting 19th-seeded Nadia Petrova, 7-6 (3), 7-5. Henin will meet Zheng Jie, who beat Maria Kirilenko, 6-1, 6-3. The semifinal matchup assures that there will be an unseeded finalist.
Williams lost to Stosur in their previous meeting and decided from the start to make sure the fans were not a factor.
"It's important when you're playing a local girl to not let the crowd get too involved or else they'll kill you," Williams said.
The main evening news broadcast broke into the Williams-Stosur coverage. The match was pushed back because Nikolay Davydenko's win over 2009 semifinalist Fernando Verdasco went to five sets, undoubtedly longer than programmers banked on.
So the marquee matches featuring the last two Aussie hopes for a first winner since the late 1970s fizzled the night before Australia Day, the national holiday.
News reports estimated that one-third of employees across Australia Monday took a "sickie" - Australian slang for a work absence without a proper excuse - to give themselves a four-day weekend.
The day's play brought a record crowd of 49,073 and these story lines: Federer will play Davydenko and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will meet 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals; Serena and Venus Williams are each a win from setting up a sisters semifinal.