REIGNING champion Novak Djokovic hailed his first major test of the year after extinguishing a rousing comeback from home favourite Lleyton Hewitt to claim his place in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
World No1 Djokovic lost his way after racing into a two-set lead and, having allowed faded star Hewitt to claw one back, was forced to save break points at 1-1 in the fourth before prevailing 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Success in an 18th consecutive grand slam match swept the Wimbledon and US Open champion into a last-eight meeting with Spain’s David Ferrer, and kept him on course for a semi-final date with Britain’s Andy Murray.
Yet he betrayed a rare vulnerability at times as wild card Hewitt, roared on by the Melbourne crowd, scented a famous upset – which the Serb put down to a lack of big-match practise in recent months.
“I think it’s good, it’s just that small part – maybe 45 minutes, one hour – where I wasn’t playing well and he did. It happens,” said Djokovic, who enjoyed an extraordinary but punishing 2011.
“I just have to keep on going. I’m confident that physically it’s not going to affect me too much. I’m not looking for excuses, but I’m saying it’s obviously the first match that I’ve been tested. It was against the player that I expected to be tested. Lleyton was playing in front of his crowd. Obviously he loves competing against the top guys on the big stage, and he proved it again.”
Djokovic had dropped just 10 games on his way to the last 16 and maintained that pace early on against Hewitt, who was unable to hold serve until the fifth game of the second set.
The Australian, a former world No1 now languishing at 181 in the rankings, redoubled his efforts to force a fourth set but could not deny Djokovic a meeting with fifth seed Ferrer, who beat Frenchman Richard Gasquet in straight sets.
On a day of shock performances, Kei Nishikori upset sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets to become the first Japanese player in the last eight for 80 years. He meets Britain’s Andy Murray next.
DRAW | QUARTER-FINALS
N Djokovic  v D Ferrer
A Murray  v K Nishikori
JM Del Potro  v R Federer 
T Berdych  v R Nadal 
C Wozniacki  v K Clijsters 
V Azarenka  v A Radwanska 
E Makarova v M Sharapova 
S Errani v P Kvitova 
Matches today and tomorrow