Laws fail to protect child brides

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Cultural traditions and a lack of legal protections are driving tens of millions of girls around the world into early marriage, subjecting them to violence, poverty and mistreatment, an international human rights group says.

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Equality Now, citing the United Nations Population Fund, said in a report issued over the weekend that more than 140 million girls over the next decade will be married before they turn 18.

“When a young girl is married and gives birth, the vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, curtailed education, violence, instability, disregard for rule of law … continues into the next generation, especially for any daughters she may have,” the report said.

The 32-page report found that despite laws that set a minimum age for marriage in many countries, social norms continue to provide a veneer of legitimacy to child marriage in remote villages and even in developed countries. Child marriage is defined as a marriage before age 18.

“Child marriage legitimises human rights violations and abuses of girls under the guise of culture, honour, tradition and religion,” the report said.

The report gave examples of cases in countries such as Afghanistan, Cameroon, Guatemala, India, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi and Mali.

Often when child brides are married off to older men, it is to restore or maintain family honour, or to settle a father’s debts or obtain some other financial gain. A girl married off is seen as one less mouth to feed, and the wedding dowry is spent by her family to support itself.

In some countries, families encourage early marriage to protect young girls from premarital sex and to uphold a family’s honour, according to the report.

In one case, a young girl named Mariam was born in France to parents from Mali. She had never been to Mali until her father sent her at age 14 and her sister at 16 to a village while they were on vacation from school.

When they arrived, their father took their passports, and Mariam was told to marry her father’s cousin. Her sister was to marry the local imam, or preacher. Mariam eventually escaped with the help of a policeman she met during a visit to the village market, but her sister remains in Mali, the report said.

Equality Now said it uses pseudonyms for girls for their safety.

In another case in Afghanistan, a 3-year-old girl’s father killed a man. To avoid prison, he handed his daughter over to the victim’s family, which regularly beat her and forced her to do household chores. At 10 she was raped by an older man in the family, and that same year she was married to a teenager from the family.

Her husband divorced her when she was 12, and she was forced to marry the uncle who had raped her. It was not until she managed to run away that police helped her find shelter with a women’s organisation. The uncle was arrested and is serving a 13-year sentence for rape, Equality Now said.

Equality Now said child marriages often lead to young brides who are isolated and, because of their marital status, have little access to education and other services generally provided to children. In cases where a girl has the legal right to void her marriage, it is difficult to do so without knowledge of the law, education and financial support.

The UN population fund says rates of child marriage are highest in the West African nation of Niger, where 75 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18, and a third are wed before age 15. Under Niger’s law, the minimum age for marriage is 15, but traditional customs often prevail in villages.

In Bangladesh, the rate of child marriage is 66 per cent, and in Central African Republic and Chad it is 68 per cent. In India, 47 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 per cent of girls in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, were married before age 15, and 52 per cent were wed before they turned 18.

Australia wrap up ODI series

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Australia have wrapped up the one-day international series against England with a seven wicket win in game three at the SCG on Sunday.

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Chasing England’s 9-243 for victory, Australia always looked comfortable in their run chase and managed the win with 60 balls to spare.

Shaun Marsh hit the winning runs with a boundary over mid-wicket off Chris Jordan off the final ball of the 40th over as Australia finished at 3-244.

After wins in Melbourne and Brisbane, the victory gives Australia an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five match series.

David Warner led the way early for the home side before 37,823 fans, smashing 71 off 70 balls before he was caught by Ian Bell at short cover off Ben Stokes in the 21st over.

Australia were 2-121 at that stage after Aaron Finch fell in the seventh over to Chris Jordan for 22 off 20 balls.

But Warner’s dismissal didn’t slow Australia’s momentum with Shaun Marsh picking up where the swashbuckling opener left off.

Marsh finished with 71 off 89 balls. Brad Haddin was the other not out batsman on 37 off 33 balls.

Earlier Eoin Morgan topscored with 54 off 58 balls in an England innings that never really got going.

Morgan fell in controversial circumstances when Dan Christian took a great catch inches off the turf off his own bowling in the 42nd over.

The Irishman stood his ground, sparking a war of words between Morgan and non striker Jos Buttler and Australian captain Michael Clarke in scenes reminiscent of Clarke’s stoush with James Anderson during the Test series.

Eventually the third umpire ruled Christian’s catch legitimate and Morgan was on his way.

Christian’s catch was emblematic of a fantastic fielding effort from Australia.

Morgan’s dismissal left England on 6-186 before some impressive late hitting from Tim Bresnan (41 off 29) pushed the visitors beyond 240.

Nathan Coulter-Nile was the best of the Australian bowlers with 3-47 off his 10 overs.

James Faulker and Christian both claimed two wickets a-piece.

In his first international game since the Ashes in England in July last year, and his first ODI since September 2012, James Pattinson managed 0-41 off his six overs.

Australia’s win continues their dominance of England this summer after their 5-0 Ashes victory.

Clarke said a great effort in the field paved the way for the win.

“We did fantastically well in the field,” Clarke.

“The Australian way is to lead the way in the field. When we are fielding well we are playing well.

“But our attitude hasn’t changed, we still want to win the series five-nil.”

England were 0-50 after 50 balls before Cook fell and the England captain said his side again failed to take their chances.

“The first 10 overs we played alright but after that we kept losing wickets and lost momentum,” he said.

“Every guy got 20 or 30 but you have to go on with it to win the game.

“Obviously Australia has won a lot of cricket against us in the last few months but we have to try and win a game.”

The fourth game in the series is in Perth on Friday.

ISIL ‘reaching out’ to Syria rebels

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The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has reached out to other rebel groups in Syria to head off infighting, in an audio message posted online.

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“Today, the (Islamic) state is reaching out to you to stop fighting us, to focus on fighting the nusairiyah,” the voice in the message, purportedly that of ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said, using the term often used by jihadists to refer to the Syrian regime.

The remarks mark a shift for ISIL, which said earlier this month it would “crush” opposition fighters and considered members of the Syrian National Coalition and the military command of the Free Syrian Army to be “legitimate targets”.

Baghdadi, in the audio message posted on jihadist forums, accused rebel groups of “betrayal”.

“Anyone who fought against us should review his stance,” he said.

“You have stabbed us in the back, as all of our soldiers were on the frontline.”

He continued, referring to various parts of Syria: “We used to have an army who implemented a plan to invade Aleppo and advance to the western front, and we used to have forces in Hama and we used to have forces in Idlib.

“But all of this has stopped in one night because of the betrayal.”

Baghdadi urged his group’s fighters to “not betray anybody”, and recommended they “forgive” other rebels.

“Forgive them, to concentrate on your enemy, who is the enemy of the Sunni people.”

Most rebels in Syria are Sunni Arab, and have fought against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

But ISIL has faced a rebel backlash in Syria and has been hit by days of fighting against a coalition of moderate and Islamist rebels, including with Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

Baghdadi had sought to merge his group with Nusra, but they rejected the alliance and pledged allegiance directly to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Since then, the two groups have functioned separately, though Nusra has remained largely neutral in the latest infighting, and the group’s leader has called for an end to the clashes, warning it would benefit the regime.

But ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani sounded a defiant tone in his own audio message earlier in January, calling for ISIL forces to “crush them (the rebels) totally and kill the conspiracy at birth.”

In the latest audio message, Baghdadi also issued a warning to Washington, going on to say, “Beware America … that the proxy war will not protect you in Syria, and soon you will be forced into direct confrontation.”

“The sons of Islam are getting themselves ready for that day.”

Italian cycling star to undergo surgery

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Italian cycling star Giovanni Visconti was to have surgery on Sunday night after suffering a broken leg in the Tour Down Under.

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The 31-year-old Movistar rider suffered a compound fracture of the tibia bone in his right leg when he crashed out of the People’s Choice Classic.

German sprint ace Marcel Kittel (Giant Shimano) won the 50km street race, the curtain-raiser to the Tour.

Kittel beat compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) on the line, while rising Australian star Caleb Ewan (UniSA) continued to impress with third place in his WorldTour debut.

Australian sprinters Chris Sutton (Sky) and Graeme Brown (Belkin) were among several other riders who crashed during the race early on Sunday evening.

Visconti was the only rider forced to go to hospital because of his injuries.

The race announced in a release that Visconti would have surgery to have a rod put into the bone and he is expected to be in hospital for three to four days.

Visconti crashed into a barrier on lap six of the 25-lap, 50km race that featured the Tour Down Under field.

“It’s an unfortunate accident that sometimes happens in racing, but we’ll be providing all the support we can to Giovanni and his team as he recovers from his injuries,” race director Mike Turtur said.

Visconti is a three-time Italian road champion, most recently in 2011, and won two stages in last year’s Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy).

He is the second big international name forced out of this year’s race because of a crash.

Top French rider Thomas Voeckler had a training accident on Wednesday, only hours after arriving in Australia, and suffered a broken collarbone.

Lotto Belisol set up Greipel perfectly for the final sprint in Sunday’s race, which he had won for the last two years.

Greipel is a two-time winner of the Tour and has a record 14 stage wins at the event.

But this time Kittel, who won four Tour de France stages last year, timed his sprint perfectly and beat Greipel on the line.

While it was no surprise that Kittel and Greipel decided the win, Ewan’s third place was a stunning result.

Ewan, 19, is one of the biggest Australian cycling talents of the last decade.

He already has a contract with top Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE, starting in August.

Ewan is riding for the composite UniSA team at the Tour Down Under before he returns to under-23 competition for much of this season.

He won the under-23 criterium and the road race at last week’s Australian road championships.

“I’m actually a little bit frightened now – they’re amazing, those guys,” Ewan said of going up against Kittel and Greipel for the first time.

“I tried to kick and he (Kittel) was just riding away from me.

“Wow – it’s crazy.”

Asked why he felt frightened after such an impressive performance, Ewan said: “I have to (go against) them in a year and that’s the level that I’m going to be expected to sprint at.”

UK party suspends gay rant councillor

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The UK Independence Party has suspended a councillor who claimed recent floods were the result of the British government’s decision to legalise gay marriage.

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David Silvester claimed the country had been “beset by storms” since the passage of the new law on gay marriage because David Cameron had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel”.

He was suspended by the party after defying a request not to do further interviews on his beliefs following his initial claims made in a letter to a local newspaper.

The move came as leader Nigel Farage launched a clearout of “extremist, nasty or barmy” views from the party ahead of polls in May.

Henley-on-Thames councillor Silvester said he had warned the prime minister of “repercussions” if gay marriage had gone ahead and told BBC Radio his daily prayers convinced him the recent flooding was the consequence.

He said the new law, paving the way for the first gay marriages in Britain this spring, was the latest mistake which would anger God – following on from abortion laws, which he likened to the Holocaust.

In the radio interview, which followed his initial claims about the link between flooding and gay marriage in a letter to the Henley Standard, Silvester said: “I don’t have a problem with gay people.

“I believe as a Christian I should love gay people and indeed, I do. My prayer for them is they will be healed.”

Silvester said he was convinced that there were “repercussions for a nation persisting in what is wrong”, and that he had clear beliefs “there are things that are right and wrong”.

“Over the years we have done many things that have caused problems,” he said.

“One, for example, is the abortion laws in which something like six million children, as many as the people killed by the Nazis in the death camps, have been killed as a result of the abortion laws.

“Now, this is a process. The latest in this process is these homosexual laws and the homosexual marriage.”

The councillor said Ukip, to whom he defected from the Conservative Party, had told him not to give any more interviews.

The party, which initially supported him after his letter to the Henley Standard, has now used emergency powers to suspend him.

Cook to reconsider England captaincy

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England’s disastrous three-month tour of Australia could bring an end to Alastair Cook’s captaincy, after the opening batsman revealed he would reconsider his leadership role after losing the one-day series.

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On the back of their five-nil Ashes triumph, Australia claimed the limited overs series in emphatic style on Sunday at the SCG by hammering England by seven wickets with 10 overs to spare.

The win gave Australia an unbeatable three-nil lead in the best-of-five match series as England’s tour sunk further into the mire.

After the match Cook said he would review his role as England skipper after the tour is over.

“I think I am going to have to make a decision on that stuff after we take stock after the next two games,” Cook said.

“We are going to have to sit down and talk about a lot of things.

“I think there will be some changes, I think English cricket needs a little bit of a change as well.

“Obviously in the last few months we haven’t played the cricket we are capable of and we have to look at the reasons why but this is not really the time and place to discuss that.”

After the Sydney Test two weeks ago Cook was backed to remain as skipper by the England and Wales Cricket Board and stated his own desire to remain in the role but he indicated things might have changed since then.

“I don’t really want to get dragged into it. It’s been two weeks since someone has asked me that question and a lot has happened in two weeks,” he said.

“We have kept losing games of cricket and I haven’t been able to turn it around.”

Cook’s demeanour after his side’s eighth straight loss to Australia at least indicated he could step aside as captain of the One Day International side.

“We deserve the stick we get because we haven’t won anything,” he said.

“I have a job to do to try and turn this around and try and win one of these games, I am going to leave everything out on this pitch.”

Preview: Australian Open day eight

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The start of week two at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne sees players vying for a spot in the top eight of the tournament.

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(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

One is a former men’s runner-up at the Australian Open, currently ranked 10th in the world and without a Grand Slam title to his name.

The other, a record-holding 17-time Grand Slam winner described as one of the greatest players of the tennis Open Era.

Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer met last year in the quarter-finals of the French Open, where Tsonga took his second ever win over the Swiss in straight sets.

Tsonga says in his fourth round clash against Federer today he’s out to take revenge for a quarter-finals loss to him in Melbourne Park twelve months ago.

Federer, who is known for his powerful and precise backhand, says he’s feeling good going into the match.

He explained to journalists in Melbourne what’s behind the successful single-handed shot that’s devastated so many of his opponents.

“Clearly it all starts with the footwork. Without footwork you’re not going to be able to hit a backhand, or you’re going to be stretched so much that you’re not going to be able to hit one. So, you’re just going to be able to react. It’s important to set yourself up so that you have multiple options and you’re most dangerous for your opponent. I think it’s important not to always hit it in the same spot. You can disguise it to some degree, but what you want to be able to do is show your opponent that you can hit it all, so that when it gets important he doesn’t know where it’s going to go.”

Also on court today are Bulgaria’s 22nd seed Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated 11th seed Canadian Milos Raonic to reach the round of 16.

He’ll play unseeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut today.

Britain’s number four seed Andy Murray will go up against lucky loser* Stephane Robert of France for his chance to enter the quarter finals.

And world number one Rafael Nadal of Spain hopes to continue his winning record over Japan’s 16th seed Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.

Nadal, who spent part of 2012 and 2013 away from competitive tennis due to illness and injury, says it’s a continuous challenge for players to rank well.

“What makes the mental part very hard is that we play a lot of months and a lot of players are ready to compete well for all [those] months. And that makes the competition very difficult. That makes you play at 100% [between] January to November if you want to keep having chances to be in the top positions of the ranking. But the most important thing is health. The mental part is something you can control. It is in your hands to be well mentally, to be fresh, to be [motivated]. But the injuries is something you cannot control. So, that’s the tougher thing.”

In the women’s draw, anticipating a physically demanding match against her round of 16 opponent is third seed Maria Sharapova.

The Russian four-time Grand Slam champion will play Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova – the two last met at Wimbledon in 2011.

The winner of that match goes into the quarter-finals against either Serbia’s eighth seed Jelena Jankovic or Simona Halep the 11th seed from Romania, who play their fourth round match today.

Also on court will be Polish fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska versus unseeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain – ranked 208th in the world.

But all eyes will be on the match between American Sloane Stephens and defending champion at Melbourne Park, Victoria Azarenka.

The Belarusian was accused of abusing injury rules after she took an extended medical timeout in her semi-finals match against Stephens last year, which she went on to win.

This is their first meeting since, and Azarenka was full of only praise for her opponent in the lead-up.

“Sloane is a great player, a very tough competitor. She has a great record here, and I feel like she improved so much. So, I’m excited about that match. It’s going to be tough. And it only gets tougher from here, every round is more challenging.”

 

 

Israel slams suspension of UNESCO exhibit

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Israel’s premier has condemned a decision by the UN cultural agency to postpone an exhibit tracing 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and Israel, following pressure from Arab countries.

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UNESCO had said on Friday it was postponing the exhibit after receiving a letter from the 22-member Arab Group which expressed concern it “could impact negatively on the peace process and current negotiations under way in the Middle East.”

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the exhibit would damage talks with the Palestinians, which began in July but have shown little sign of progress.

“It would not harm the negotiations. Negotiations are based on facts, on the truth, which is never harmful,” Netanyahu told ministers at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu countered that what had harmed the talks were European moves to summon Israeli ambassadors over recent settlement announcements, referring to the construction tenders as “matters of no substance,” while ignoring “significant violations” by the Palestinians.

On Thursday, Israeli ambassadors in London, Rome, Paris and Madrid were called in for explanations in a move Netanyahu slammed as “hypocritical.”

“The one-sided approach toward Israel does not advance peace – it pushes peace further away,” he said.

The exhibition, The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land, was due to open on Tuesday at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris.

In response, Israel and Washington cut funding to UNESCO, sparking a major financial crisis at the agency and putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

Detention centres are ‘dysfunctional’

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Three asylum seekers escaped a Western Australia detention centre in 45 seconds last week, exposing major security flaws at the facility, a leaked report has revealed.

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The January 12 breakout was the third escape from the Yongah Hill Detention Centre in five months and an embarrassment for Serco, which manages Australia’s detention centres and WA’s prisoner transport system.

Documents reveal security weaknesses including asylum-seeker access to the internet for maps, to book plane tickets and organise getaway cars through social media.

Detainees had also become more confident as a result of the number of recent escapes and the lack of penalties, while the voltage on the 3.2-metre electric fence at Yongah Hill was not strong enough to shock escapees and was easy to climb.

A Serco insider described the entire system as “dysfunctional” and said he was speaking out against “incompetence”.

“There is no training given and everything is about money,” he told The Sunday Times newspaper.

“Every time we have these incidents the main effort isn’t improving, but more so passing the buck and looking for someone to blame.”

Two of the Vietnamese detainees from the January 12 breakout have been caught, but the third remains on the run.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said recommendations made by Serco following any escape incident were considered and implemented if appropriate.

“There are service standards in place with regard to performance against the department’s contract with its detention service provider, Serco, and compliance with these standards is regularly reviewed,” she told AAP.

“Security is a key performance indicator under the contract and there is provision for abatement for such breaches.”

The incident happened a week after a rapist and alleged armed robber kicked their way out of a prison van at Geraldton Airport, prompting a 36-hour manhunt.

A third prisoner escaped from Serco’s custody while being treated at Joondalup Health Campus on Friday afternoon and was caught on Sunday.

The prisoner ripped a metal rail off a wall and threatened staff, so guards shut him in a bathroom and it is believed he then climbed through the ceiling to escape.

Inspired Ivanovic stuns Serena, Djokovic cruises

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Novak Djokovic was for once forced to cede the spotlight to another Serbian but showed no signs of relinquishing his iron grip on the men’s title and was merciless in his 6-3 6-0 6-2 flogging of Fabio Fognini.

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Third seed David Ferrer also advanced to the last eight and a meeting with Tomas Berdych and his stripy football shirt, while women’s fourth seed Li Na and Flavia Pennetta set up a last eight clash of 31-year-olds.

Li and Pennetta had every reason to expect their path to the final to be blocked by world number one and top seed Williams until Ivanovic secured the biggest shock of the tournament with a 4-6 6-3 6-3 victory on Rod Laver Arena.

The Serbian’s win instead sent her through to a quarter-final clash against Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard, who ended Australia’s hopes of a home champion when she overcame Casey Dellacqua 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-0.

“I actually believed,” said Ivanovic, whose mental toughness has been frequently questioned because of her failure to back up her 2008 French Open title.

“Going on to the court today, I really just tried to give my best.

“I tried to make it a good match. I was very competitive till the last moment and I’m just very thrilled.”

Williams was riding high on a winning streak of 25 matches going back to the start of last year’s U.S. Open and had not lost a single set to Ivanovic in four previous meetings.

When the 32-year-old took the first set despite looking a little lethargic, she seemed to be on her way to a record 62nd victory at the Australian Open, where she is 51-1 after going 1-0 up in match.

DICTATING PLAY

In the second set, though, Ivanovic really started to take the game to Williams, attacking the 17-times grand slam champion’s serve with a success very few have managed and dictating the back court with her forehand.

Her tally of 20 forehand winners to two for Williams told its own tale but, most importantly, once in front in the deciding set, Ivanovic kept her head before serving out to love for the match.

“I really did certain things extremely well and I kept her under pressure I felt throughout the whole match,” the 26-year-old said.

“I didn’t think much about the occasion and who I was playing, because it can get overwhelming.”

Williams’s four-year quest for a sixth Melbourne title has been bedevilled by injury but she offered no excuses until realising coach Patrick Mouratoglou had let the cat out of the bag about a back problem she had suffered.

“So he’s the one that’s snitching?” she said to laughter.

“I don’t want to blame anything. I feel like Ana deserves all the credit. I feel she played unbelievable today. I think she went for her shots.

“It’s not like I gave her the match. I tried to fight the best I could today.”

Djokovic gave his friend of 10 years Fognini absolutely nothing in their 93-minute encounter on Rod Laver Arena and still had plenty of energy left at the end to launch into an impersonation of new coach Boris Becker.

There were no jokes, however, when he was asked to assess his form after registering his 28th victory in a row and reaching the last eight for a 19th straight grand slam.

DJOKOVIC FOCUSED

“I felt from the start of this tournament that I’ve been elevating my game as the tournament is going on. Every match is better,” the second seed, who is seeking a fourth straight title, said.

“The general feeling on the court, all the shots, using the court position really well, being aggressive, playing my style of the game.

“Mentally I was there. I was tough. I was focused. I feel great about myself in this moment. Trying to keep it up.”

Djokovic next faces eighth seed Stan Wawrinka, who hit 57 winners in a highly impressive display of aggressive tennis to overcome Spain’s Tommy Robredo 6-3 7-6 (3) 7-6 (5) in the final match on Rod Laver Arena.

Berdych reached the last eight for the fourth year in a row at the only grand slam where he has never made the semi-finals without having given up a service game let alone a set.

The seventh seed’s 6-2 6-2 6-3 win over Kevin Anderson was his 10th in 10 matches against the South African and left him with “plenty of gas in the tank” for his next match against David Ferrer, who beat Florian Mayer 6-7 (7-5) 7-5 6-2 6-1.

Former French Open champion Li, who reached the final here last year and in 2011, allowed Ekaterina Makarova not so much as a sniff of an upset as she set up meeting with Pennetta by demolishing the Russian 6-2 6-0.

Pennetta’s journey to her first Australian Open quarter-final was a bit more complicated and she took 53 minutes longer to beat ninth seeded German Angelique Kerber 6-1 4-6 7-5.

Li had her own particular reason for being delighted to face the Italian.

“She’s one day older than me, so for once I don’t have to play a younger player,” she beamed.

(Editing by Justin Palmer)