MELBOURNE, Australia - Two sets down. A 6-foot-5 Tomas Berdych ripping forehand winners and powerful serves down at him, keeping him on the defensive.
Roger Federer's campaign to equal Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam singles titles was in serious jeopardy in the fourth round Sunday at the Australian Open.
On the court where women's No. 1 Jelena Jankovic was knocked out in the day's opening match and No. 3 Dinara Safina had to save match points before advancing, Federer also appeared in trouble.
Not in his mind.
"I wasn't thinking of losing, that's for sure," Federer said after reaching the quarterfinals with a 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win. "The finish line was still very far for Tomas. I knew that.
"He pushed me to the limit. You've got to hang in there, there's no other solution."
After breaking 23-year-old Berdych in the pivotal seventh game of the third set, when the Czech player missed three open volleys and blew five game points, Federer took the momentum.
"In the end it becomes very mental, and I know that this is where my biggest strengths always come into play," he said. "That's why I'm always going to favor myself in a fifth set."
Federer cut his unforced errors from 13 and 11 in the first two sets to four and three in the next two. He finished with 61 winners to 58 for Berdych.
It was only his fourth career comeback from two sets down and third in a major - the previous in 2001, more than two years before he won the first of his Grand Slam titles.
Best of all, he said, it gave him confidence he could go all the way - if pushed - by anyone of the younger brigade.
"It's good to have five-setters to see where you're at," Federer said.
He next faces 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro, seeded eighth from Argentina, who advanced 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 over No. 19 Marin Cilic of Croatia.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia jumped to a 5-0 lead, then was pushed the rest of the way in a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.
He'll next play American Andy Roddick, who ousted No. 21 Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-1, 6-3.
The atmosphere for the Djokovic-Baghdatis match was more like a soccer match, with large contingents from Melbourne's Greek and Serbian communities loudly cheering between points until it finished at 2:26 a.m.
"It's never easy to play second week of a Grand Slam, especially against a great player like Marcos," Djokovic said. "It wasn't easy. We had to wait (to start) for a couple of hours. But I'm happy I got through in four sets."
Djokovic said the pair spoke and joked while waiting for the preceding women's match, hoping it would finish quickly.
Baghdatis holds the record for the latest finishing match at the Australian Open, his five-set, third-round loss to Lleyton Hewitt last year finishing at 4:34 a.m.
"I played four rounds, won three matches," Baghdatis said. "My objective was to make it to the second week. I made it by about three hours."
The top eight seeds in the men's draw made it to fourth round here for the first time since 1970. If you count No. 9 James Blake, it was the first time the top nine seeds got this far at a major since the 1982 French Open.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal plays 2007 runner-up Fernando Gonzalez, seeded 13th, in the round of 16 on Monday, when No. 4 Andy Murray goes against No. 14 Fernando Verdasco. No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga plays Blake, while Frenchmen No. 6 Gilles Simon and No. 12 Gael Monfils â friends since age 12 â were to meet for the first time at tour level.
If the top eight reach the quarters, it will be a first in a Grand Slam in the Open era.
The women's draw is quickly diminishing, with No. 2 Serena Williams emerging as the favorite to win a 10th Grand Slam. She's on a streak of winning the Australian title every alternate year since 2003, and was playing No. 13 Victoria Azarenka on Monday for a place in the quarterfinals.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and only other winner of a major remaining, plays Zheng Jie of China.
While Jankovic was disappointing in a 6-1, 6-4 loss to 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, a compelling story emerged in Jelena Dokic's surprising run to the quarterfinals.
Dokic, who renounced her Australian links in 2001 to move to Serbia, has since been estranged from her family, struggled with depression and returned to represent Australia. She won a wild-card tournament to reach her first major in three years.
The No. 187-ranked Dokic will meet Safina after a 7-5, 5-7, 8-6 win over Russia's Alisa Kleybanova. Afterward, Dokic was hugged on court in a TV interview by former player turned analyst Alicia Molik, the last Australian woman to reach the quarterfinals here in 2005.
After her win Sunday, on the eve of Australia Day, a courtside television interviewer told Dokic, "This is why we love you so much. ... You're courageous."
"To be in the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam is just amazing," said Dokic, a former world No. 4 and 2000 Wimbledon semifinalist.
Safina's career is on the rise after reaching finals of the last French Open and the Beijing Olympics, not that she's making things easy. Safina, who faced match points with No. 15 Alize Cornet serving at 5-3 in the deciding set, rallied to win 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
"I am so lucky that I'm in the quarterfinals, she was one point away," Safina said.
The 23-year-old Serb is after more than just her first Grand Slam singles title. She could also take over the No. 1 ranking if she wins the season's first major.
"I let my opponent completely come on top of me and play her game," Jankovic said, still frustrated over her performance against Cornet. "I gave her a lot of confidence."