MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur faced the best in the business and could be excused for wishing they had skipped work when a half million other Aussies took a day off.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams ended local hopes of breaking a three-decade drought at the Australian Open. The top-ranked Federer beat former No. 1 Hewitt 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 Monday night at Rod Laver Arena. Federer said he’d been playing Hewitt since they were 14 and they were old friends and rivals, but it didn’t stop him from beating the Australian a 15th straight time.

Williams, ranked No. 1 and the defending champion, defeated No. 13 Stosur 6-4, 6-2 in the previous match on center court at Melbourne Park.

Williams lost to Stosur in their last meeting and decided from the start to make sure the fans were not a factor. She kept everybody quiet, conceding only seven points on serve in the 65-minute match.

“It’s important when you’re playing a local girl to not let the crowd get too involved or else they’ll kill you,” Williams said.

The main evening news broadcast broke into the Williams-Stosur coverage. The match was pushed back because Nikolay Davydenko’s win over 2009 semifinalist Fernando Verdasco went to five sets, undoubtedly longer than programmers banked on.

And so the marquee matches featuring the last two Aussie hopes for a first winner since the late 1970s fizzled the night before Australia Day, the national holiday.

News reports estimated that one-third of employees across Australia on Monday took a “sickie” — Australian slang for a work absence without a proper excuse — to give themselves a four-day weekend through Tuesday’s holiday.

The day’s play brought a record crowd of 49,073 for the second Monday at Melbourne Park, and these story lines: Federer will play Davydenko and 2008 champion Novak Djokovic will meet 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals; Serena and Venus Williams are each a win away of setting up a sisters semifinal.

Venus Williams advanced 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 over Francesca Schiavone, the first time she’s dropped a set in six matches dating back eight years against the Italian.

Venus will play No. 16 Li Na, who ousted U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3 and joined 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie to give China two players in the quarterfinals of one Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

Li beat Venus in their only previous match — the quarterfinals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Serena, who has won the Australian title each odd-numbered year since beating Venus for the 2003 championship, will play seventh-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who beat No. 9 Vera Zvonareva of Russia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in a late match.

O the men’s side, Tsonga, seeded 10th, had to go five sets for the first time in a career that has spanned 11 Grand Slam events to edge Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7 (6), 9-7.

Djokovic had a 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 win over Poland’s Lukasz Kubot, who was ranked No. 101 at the end of last season and got a walkover in the third round when No. 20 Mikhail Youzhny withdrew with an injured wrist.

Davydenko held off No. 9 Verdasco 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, dropping a set for the first time in the tournament but extending his winning streak to 13 matches, including wins over both Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal at the 2009 season-ending championship in London and the 2010 season-opener at Doha.

Nadal, the defending champion, takes on No. 5 Andy Murray, the Scot seeking his first major, on Tuesday night. In the preceding match, No. 7 Andy Roddick plays No. 14 Marin Cilic, who is coming off an upset of U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

Justine Henin resumes her Grand Slam comeback in a quarterfinal against Nadia Petrova, who has already ousted two reigning major champs – U.S. Open winner Kim Clijsters and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

China’s Zheng faces Maria Kirilenko, who beat fellow Russians Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion, and No. 2 Dinara Safina, last year’s losing finalist, in earlier rounds.

Davydenko has won 20 tour titles and finished in the top six each year since 2005 but has never reached a Grand Slam final. The Russian’s best runs in Australia have been to the quarterfinals, this being his fourth.

Federer said he was now more wary of Davydenko, who has overcome the nerves that once plagued his serve.

“Yeah, he just used to get the yips,” Federer said. “I mean, he would not hit his first serve, and if he would, he would miss it and then he would serve a ton of double-faults. That would obviously give you many more opportunities to break.”

Davydenko lost his first 12 matches against Federer before finally beating the Swiss twice.

“In Doha when I played him, he hit 27 out of 27 first serves into the court,” Federer said. “So it’s a bit of difference, you know. That makes it a bit more difficult to break. Obviously he’s one of the good return players we have in the game. He moves extremely well and makes it hard.”

Federer has won three of his record 15 Grand Slam titles in Australia and has reached the semifinals or better each year since 2004 at Melbourne Park.

“I’m in for a good match for sure,” he said, but “I obviously favor my chances in a best-of-five set match.”

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