Djokovic lays down challenge after reaching quarters

NEW YORK, Sept 6 - (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic stormed into the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open on Monday with a brilliant performance that underlined his credentials as the biggest threat to Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal to win the men’s title.

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Djokovic, getting better with each match after a shaky start to the championship, laid down the challenge to his main rivals with a comprehensive 6-3 6-4 6-1 over American crowd favorite Mardy Fish, the 19th seed.

Fish had gone into the match with real hopes of pulling off an upset after a string of impressive results during the hardcourt season but could not make any inroads against the Serbian world number three, who is back in the dazzling form that took him to the final at Flushing Meadows in 2007.

“It’s very encouraging at this stage of the tournament that I’m raising my game and feeling more comfortable on the court,” Djokovic said. “I played a great match today.”

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki cleared a giant hurdle in her quest to win a first grand slam title when she defeated former champion Maria Sharapova 6-3 6-4 in one of the most eagerly awaited matches at the Arthur Ashe Stadium center court.

A surprise finalist 12 months ago but the top seed this year after the withdrawal of injured world number one Serena Williams, Wozniacki showed how far she has come in a short time to reach the quarter-finals without dropping a set.

“It was a real tough match. Maria’s a great player so it wasn’t going to be easy,” Wozniacki said. “I got a lot of experience from last year and it definitely helped me a lot today.”

Wozniacki’s next opponent will be unseeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, at 45 the lowest ranked player left in the women’s draw, after she beat another former Russian champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 7-5 7-6.

Kuznetsova, upset at the scheduling, led in both sets but could not shake off the diminutive Cibulkova, who made the French Open semi-finals last year but had never made it beyond the fourth round of any of the other grand slams.

“It was very hard for me to play one night the second night match and then in one day to play at 11 o’clock,” Kuznetsova said.

“I just didn’t feel good today. I was very flat. I was just fighting with myself and was not doing all the time the things I was supposed to do.”

Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi recovered from a horrendous start to wear down Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer 0-6 7-6 6-1 and reach the last eight against either Vera Zvonareva or Andrea Petkovic.

Gael Monfils overpowered his countryman Richard Gasquet 6-4 7-5 7-5 to become the first Frenchman in a decade to reach the U.S. Open quarter-finals. The next opponent for the world number 19 is Djokovic.

Editing by Steve Ginsburg