Big-serving Czech Tomas Berdych fended off a belated challenge from baseline hustler David Ferrer to reach his maiden Australian Open semi-final on Tuesday with a gritty 6-1 6-4 2-6 6-4 victory.
Seventh seed Berdych cruised to a two-set lead over a surprisingly listless Ferrer but spontaneously collapsed in the third set under pressure from the dogged Spaniard.
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Ferrer appeared primed to drag the match into an epic struggle but lost focus at 2-2 in the fourth set to surrender serve with a string of unforced errors.
Berdych grimly held onto the advantage, surviving a breakpoint when serving for the match, to seal a semi-final with either triple defending champion Novak Djokovic or eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka.
“It was extremely tough. And a physically really tough match with David, always,” Berdych said in a courtside interview, wearing his distinctive blue and white striped shirt.
“After losing the third set, I really was not playing my best.
“After that I just tried to re-focus on my game again.”
Berdych mowed through the first set in half an hour, breaking the off-colour third seed twice and sealing it with a crunching second serve that the Spaniard could only bash wide.
The pair struggled to hold serve in the second set and Berdych captured the decisive break at 4-4 with a fierce backhand down the line before serving out the set with an ace.
Ferrer galvanised himself for one last push and saved a string of break points to hold serve in a marathon game at 2-2.
Fired up, he lightly shoved a linesman out of the way of his box to dump his towel, then roared through the next four games as Berdych imploded in a hail of unforced errors.
The rangy Czech left the court between the third and fourth sets and emerged to survive a lengthy service game at 2-2.
Having dominated play, Ferrer surprised by losing focus in the next service game and slapped a forehand into the tramlines to concede a break.
Berdych grabbed his chance with both hands and though repeatedly taken to deuce on serve, the Czech saved a breakpoint with a blistering forehand winner and closed it out after just over three hours with a huge serve.
Baseline pounder Berdych has now made the semi-finals of all four grand slams.
“That was definitely the thing which was on my agenda,” Berdych, a former Wimbledon finalist, said, also celebrating his first win on centre court in Rod Laver Arena.
“The first thought I have right now, I just want to go rest and prepare myself because I’ll definitively need it.”