By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Italian Andreas Seppi sent shockwaves through the Australian Open on Friday as he toppled four-times champion Roger Federer in one of the greatest Melbourne Park upsets in recent memory.
Ranked 46th in the world and on a 23-match losing streak against top-10 opponents, the 30-year-old Seppi jumped out to a two-set lead and weathered the inevitable comeback to triumph 6-4 7-6(5) 4-6 7-6(5) in the thrilling third round encounter played out before a heaving Rod Laver Arena.
With the terraces shrieking through the decisive tiebreaker, Seppi was superb in the nerve-jangling clinches, and his lunging forehand passing shot that kissed the line and sealed the match will be a feature on highlight reels for years to come.
"I just tried to enjoy to play center court again," the unshaven Italian said in a courtside interview after ending Federer's 13-year run to the last 16 at Melbourne Park.
"I just tried to do my best and I think it was one of the best matches (of my career).
"It was great to play in front of a full stadium."
Seppi had lost all 10 of his previous matches against the second-seeded Swiss, who was also riding a 22-match winning streak against Italian opposition.
Having lived dangerously in the second round with a four-set win over another Italian in Simone Bolelli, 33-year-old Federer was off-color from the start, shanking wild forehands well outside the lines and failing to convert a raft of break-points on a glorious, sunny day.
"I guess I won the wrong points out there today," a gloomy Federer told reporters.
"The end wasn't pretty... I just somehow couldn't play my best tennis today and it was partially because Andreas played very well today.
"Maybe the rhythm was missing but I feel like that very often (before matches)."
His downfall robs the tournament of one of its most dependable guests, the Swiss having made the semi-finals or better in his 11 previous campaigns.
The upset also tore open the bottom half of the draw, giving the likes of Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal added hope of adding to their grand slam tallies.
Briton Murray will have to negotiate his Wimbledon nemesis next, however, after setting up a fourth-round clash against rising Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov by beating Portugal's Joao Sousa at Hisense Arena.
The Scottish sixth seed was mostly in top form in his emphatic 6-1 6-1 7-5 win over Sousa but Dimitrov, who ended his Wimbledon title defense last year, will be his first real test.
The 23-year-old Bulgarian was dragged into a five-set dog-fight by 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis, the match playing out in a football-crowd atmosphere at rowdy Showcourt Three.
The big-hearted Cypriot rode a huge wave of support from Melbourne's ethnic Greek fans onto a two sets-to-one lead before ultimately losing the battle of fitness 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Another young player expected to rock the tennis establishment, Canadian seventh seed Genie Bouchard labored early at Rod Laver Arena against Caroline Garcia but went on a seven-game tear to bagel the Frenchwoman, winning 7-5 6-0.
"I don't think it was the prettiest tennis out there today," the hard-hitting 20-year-old said. "I'm just happy I got through even though I wasn't playing my best."
Bouchard will next face 42nd-ranked Romanian Camelia Irina-Begu, who will make her fourth round debut in a grand slam, unlike the other six qualifiers that have made the last-16 of the women's draw.
The absence of women's champion Li Na has left a hole for organizers of the "Asia-Pacific" grand slam, but Peng Shuai has taken on Li's mantle with aplomb, continuing the pattern of late-blooming Chinese women.
The 21st seed and U.S. Open semi-finalist eased past Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova 7-6(7) 6-3 to reach the fourth round, matching her best performance at Melbourne Park in 2011.
Men's seventh seed Tomas Berdych continued his tranquil run, blasting Serb Viktor Troicki 6-4 6-3 6-4, while women's third seed Simona Halep was safely through with a 6-4 7-5 win over flamboyant American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
(Editing by John O'Brien)