MELBOURNE: Defending champion Novak Djokovic lived to fight on at the Australian Open after an epic five-setter early yesterday, as David Ferrer set up an all-Spanish quarter-final with Nicolas Almagro.
The Serbian world number one was taken to the brink by Swiss 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka before winning their fourth round thriller 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 12-10 in 5hr 2min on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic will have to regroup for his quarter-final against Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych tomorrow, while Ferrer will face compatriot Almagro after they earlier took contrasting roads to the last eight.
"It definitely ranks right at the top. One of the longest, most interesting, and most exciting matches I've played in my career," said a relieved Djokovic.
"All the credit to Stan. I feel sorry that one of us had to lose. He definitely deserved to win. But I'm just thrilled to be able to fight once again up to the last moment."
Wawrinka had lost his previous 10 encounters with Djokovic going back to 2006 but he produced 69 winners and seven service breaks to have the Serb in deep trouble at times during the titanic struggle.
But Djokovic was ultimately able to reach his 15th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final and take his career five-set record to 18-6.
Ferrer, the fourth seed in celebrated countryman Rafael Nadal's absence, wore down Japan's Kei Nishikori in straight sets to reach his third straight quarter-final at the year-opening Grand Slam.
But 10th seed Almagro was only on court for over an hour before his Serbian opponent Janko Tipsarevic retired with a foot injury at 6-2, 5-1.
Ferrer, on track to face Djokovic in the semi-finals, has never lost to Almagro in 12 meetings.
Berdych defeated Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (15/13) in 2hr 44min after surviving a nerve-racking tiebreaker in which the South African had five set points.
Ferrer, who will usurp Nadal as world number four after the Open, was far too consistent and disciplined for 16th seed Nishikori, winning 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in 2hr 10min, but he dismissed suggestions he was in the top four on merit.
"I am top four because Rafael has been injured a long time. It's true," Ferrer admitted.
"I think the top four, they are better. It's my opinion. But I am trying to win every match. The results, are there, no? I'm not making something up."