Andy Murray strives for A game while Federer finds himself in rare form

One more hurdle for each of them and Andy Murray and Roger Federer will meet for the sixth time in a year – having split the Wimbledon title and Olympic gold along the way – in the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Friday.

While the Swiss has been moving through the draw on cruise-control – with another relatively comfortable win, in straight sets over Milos Raonic – Murray's engine has alternately roared and spluttered, although there is a strong sense that he is about to move up a gear in his quarter-final against the Frenchman Jérémy Chardy on Wednesday .

Like Federer, Murray has yet to drop a set, but he finished his fourth-round workout against Chardy's compatriot, the exhausted Gilles Simon, with an explosive forehand, an angry full stop to proceedings and evidence of his frustration as he strives for the A game he will need from this point on.

"Some slams I've started off really, really well and some I had some tough patches in," Murray admitted. "Wimbledon [last]year, there was one set maybe, against [Ivo] Karlovic, an hour-and-a-half period where it was tight. The [Marco] Baghdatis match [which rammed up against the 11pm curfew] was fairly tough as well.

"Sometimes at the Australian Open I've started really well and got through to the second week without dropping a set. It doesn't really matter – Roger hasn't lost a set either yet, and I'm sure will be happy with where he's at, so you just have to wait and see whether you're ready to up it. I hope I will be ready."

There were moments against Simon – visibly wrecked after coming through four hours 35 minutes of muscle torture to beat Gaël Monfils two nights earlier – when Murray hit the ball with chilling certainty. His serving, too, was solid. But he will reckon he should have made even shorter work of it than winning 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in an hour and 35 minutes.

Chardy will be no pushover, according to his coach, Kerei Abakar, who described his four-set win over the No21 seed Andreas Seppi as "an amazing performance".

He added: "He didn't play well in the first two tournaments of the year. He didn't win any matches. Then he came here and he's been getting more into it with every match. He's staying very calm, trying to play relaxed and rely on his strengths – his serve, his forehand. No thinking – just relax and enjoy it.

"I think it's only mental, just believing in himself more, because everybody knows that he can beat anybody if he's in good shape and if it's a good day for him. He just needs to believe in himself."

Chardy has had help from an unexpected quarter. "I was really happy for Jérémy," Serena Williams said after gliding into the women's quarter-finals with a 57-minute win over Maria Kirilenko. "He beat [Juan Martín] del Potro. He won today. So now we're both in the quarters. I always say it's because he hit with me in Mauritius. Obviously I'm the reason he's doing well."

But she is a Murray fan, too. "He has such a big serve and such a big forehand. The guy is awesome. He's running everything down."

Federer, meanwhile, has been in sublime form from the first day, and looked scarily composed in beating Raonic 6-4, 7-6, 6-2. His serve is honed to near perfection, and he rifled in 14 aces, winning 45 of 50 points on his first serve and 75% of his second serves.

Federer said he could not really gauge his level. "I don't even know when I play my very best, so … You just try to play very good every match. Most of the times you play good, you know. When you play very good, that's rare."

In which case, Federer is in rare form. He has that unflustered glow about him, no trace of anxiety – and that was not always the case in 2012, especially in New York, and in the Olympic final against Murray.

The Swiss, too, plays a Frenchman in his quarter-final, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who looked solid accounting for his countryman Richard Gasquet in four sets.

Raonic, however, never threatened to stop Federer's remarkable streak of 35 slam quarter-finals. At 31, the world No2 looks as fresh as he has did when beating Murray here in the final three years ago (not to mention Wimbledon last year), and clearly he has benefited from taking a long break after the end of the 2012 season.

"Obviously times have changed," Federer said. "Conditions have slowed down. That gives you an opportunity to be more consistent in all four majors, where before we had the clay-court specialists, the fast-court players. I truly believe it is a bit easier to play more consistently today."

Given the five-set nightmare the defending champion Novak Djokovic had to endure against Stanislas Wawrinka on Sunday night (he plays Tomas Berdych on Tuesday, starting at 8.30am UK time), and the absence of the injured Rafael Nadal, the title remains tantalisingly within the grasp of any of them.

Federer, perhaps, ought to be favoured to win a fifth Australian title, although he is yet to be properly stretched. If Tsonga does not do it, Murray almost certainly will.

Powered by article was written by Kevin Mitchell at Melbourne Park, for The Guardian on Monday 21st January 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Ian Dick