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Tennis: Tomic edges classic as old guard stay on track

Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal starred for the old establishment in a day-time double-feature at the Australian Open yesterday before two rising talents threatened to steal the show with a thrilling tussle under the bright lights of Rod Laver Arena.

Federer felled towering Croat Ivo Karlovic to follow Nadal into the last 16 and stay on collision course for a mouth-watering semi-final against the Spaniard, who eased past Slovakian Lukas Lacko.

The real drama came later, however, when young home favourite Bernard Tomic edged a five-set classic against Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov.

After three hours and 49 minutes of tension-charged action, the rangy 19-year-old with nerves of steel emerged with a 4-6 7-6 7-6 2-6 6-3 victory and the prospect of a fourth-round battle with Federer.

On a day of almost total dominance for the seeds, 2009 champion Nadal raised the curtain at Rod Laver Arena with a 6-2 6-4 6-2 drubbing of Lacko.

Nadal has not lost a set so far and never appeared in danger against his 119th-ranked opponent under overcast skies on centre court.

Only a low-flying bird swooping across the court stalled the Mallorcan's charge momentarily as Nadal set up a fourth-round clash with fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.

Lopez outlasted towering marathon-man John Isner in a five-set duel, the American's second in a row at the tournament, to leave the US without a single man in the last 16 of the Australian Open for the first time since 1973.

Third seed Federer achieved the seemingly impossible when he managed to salvage a set point with a winning lob over the beanpole Karlovic, who had briefly threatened the Swiss with a barrage of booming serves.

With Karlovic leading 6-5 in the first-set tie-break, Federer's lob from just in front of the net pinged off the top of Karlovic's racket, allowing the Swiss maestro to save the set and roll on to emphatic 7-6 7-5 6-3 victory.

With Rod Laver Arena hogged by the men's contenders, Caroline Wozniacki's battle for credibility as the world No 1 continued against 31st seed Monica Niculescu.

The Dane needs at least one more win in Melbourne to have a chance of emerging from the year's first Grand Slam at the top of the rankings, a position she has held for 67 of the last 68 weeks despite not winning a Grand Slam title.

With three other players having a chance to snatch the top ranking after the dust settles at Melbourne Park, Wozniacki signalled she would not give up the prize without a 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 21-year-old said. "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 (pictured) will play Serb Jelena Jankovic, a former world No 1 whose own Grand Slam ambitions are yet to be fulfilled.

Defending champion Kim Clijsters marched on with a 6-3 6-2 romp over Daniela Hantuchova. The Belgian faces a re-match of last year's final with French Open champion Li Na in the next round, after the Chinese woman advanced when her opponent Anabel Medina Garrigues retired in tears with injury.

Garrigues' right ankle rolled underneath her while trailing 2-0 in the first set and the Spaniard had to be helped off.

Victoria Azarenka maintained the heat on Wozniacki with a comfortable 6-2 6-4 victory over Germany's Mona Barthel.

Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro moved quietly into the fourth round with a straight-sets win over Taiwan's Lu Yen-Hsun.

Last year's Wimbledon losing finalist Tomas Berdych was another flying under the radar as the seventh seed sealed a 7-6 7-6 6-1 win over South African Kevin Anderson.

Australian Open, Live, Eurosport, 6.0, midnight

Irish Independent