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Rafa & Roger on right path

- Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka stroll into next round

Melbourne: A mouth-watering Grand Slam showdown between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer moved a step closer to reality when the in-form arch-rivals breezed into the Australian Open’s last 16 on Friday, as Caroline Wozniacki held on to her world No. 1 ranking.

With Novak Djokovic’s sensational 2011 smashing tennis’s long-standing duopoly, Nadal and Federer find themselves on the same side of the draw at a major for the first time since 2005 and on collision course for a semi-final at Melbourne Park.

With the prime-time evening slot handed to 38th-ranked local teenager Bernard Tomic, the Spaniard and the Swiss headlined in a Rod Laver Arena double feature, with Nadal raising the curtain with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to boot Slovakian Lukas Lacko off stage.

Second on the bill, third-seeded Federer faced a far trickier proposition against towering Croat Ivo Karlovic, who briefly threatened to upstage the Swiss show-man with a barrage of booming serves before being toppled 7-6, 7-5, 6-3.

“After that (lob), I maybe relaxed a bit. I got a bit of a better read on his serve potentially and just also knew what I wanted to do on my own service games,” said Federer, who next faces the winner of Tomic and 13th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. “It was a big first set, clearly.”

With Rod Laver Arena hogged by the men’s contenders, Wozniacki’s battle for credibility continued at Hisense Arena against 31st seed Monica Niculescu.

The Dane signalled she would not give up the prize without an almighty fight as she steamrolled the Romanian 6-2, 6-2 in 76 minutes. “To be honest, I’ve proven myself for the last two years. I’ve finished No. 1 twice in a row,” the blonde 21-year-old said, defending her ranking yet again.

“For me, the most important thing is to keep improving. If I do that, I know I can play on a very high level.” Wozniacki will play Serb Jelena Jankovic, a former world No. 1 whose own Grand Slam ambitions are yet to be fulfilled.

Victoria Azarenka, one of the three plotting a coup against Wozniacki, kept up the heat with a comfortable 6-2, 6-4 victory over Mona Barthel.

Eighth seed Agnieszka Radwanska is also through to the last 16 after mowing through Kazak Galina Voskoboeva 6-2, 6-2, the last in a raft of lop-sided contests that have provoked murmurings about the strength of the women’s game.

Czech Tomas Berdych moved quietly into the fourth round with a grinding 7-6, 7-6, 6-1 win over tall South African Kevin Anderson and will face 10th seed Nicolas Almagro of Spain next. (Reuters)

DAY V RESULTS

Men’s singles third round: Rafael Nadal (2, Esp) bt Lukas Lacko Slovakia 6-2 6-4 6-2, Roger Federer (3, Sui) bt Ivo Karlovic Croatia 7-6 (6) 7-5 6-3, Tomas Berdych (7, Czr) bt Kevin Anderson (30, SA) 7-6 (5) 7-6 (1) 6-1, Feliciano Lopez (18, Esp) bt John Isner (16, US) 6-3 6-7 (3) 6-4 6-7 (0) 6-1, Nicolas Almagro (10, Esp) bt Stanislas Wawrinka (21, Sui) 7-6 (2) 6-2 6-4, Juan Martin del Potro (11, Arg) bt Yen-hsun Lu Taiwan 6-2 6-3 6-0, Bernard Tomic (Aus) bt Alexandr Dolgopolov (13, Ukr) 4-6 7-6 (0) 7-6 (6) 2-6 6-3.
Women’s singles, third round: Victoria Azarenka (3, Blr) bt Mona Barthel (Ger) 6-2 6-4, Agnieszka Radwanska (8, Pol) bt Galina Voskoboeva (Kaz) 6-2 6-2, Caroline Wozniacki (1, Den) bt Monica Niculescu (31, Rom) 6-2 6-2, Julia Goerges (22, Ger) bt Romina Oprandi (Ita) 3-6 6-3 6-1, Jelena Jankovic (13, Srb) bt Christina McHale (US) 6-2 6-0, Kim Clijsters (11, Bel) bt Daniela Hantuchova (20, Svk) 6-3 6-2, Li Na (5, Chn) bt Anabel Medina Garrigues (26, Esp) 3-0 30-0 retired.
Men’s doubles, second round: Leander Paes / Radek Stepanek (Ind / Czr) bt Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini (14, Ita) 6-2 7-6 (5).
Mixed doubles, first round: Sania Mirza / Mahesh Bhupathi (6, Ind) bt Natalie Grandin / Jean-Julien Rojer Curacao (SA) 6-4 6-2, Lisa Raymond / Rohan Bopanna (US / 4, Ind) bt Galina Voskoboeva / Alexander Peya (Kaz / Aut) 6-1 6-0.

Note: Seeded players and Indians only