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Federer ploughs on as Barty eyes Wozniacki or Sharapova

The Swiss great tamed big-serving American Taylor Fritz 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena to stay on track for a third successive title at Melbourne Park and a 21st Grand Slam crown.

Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates after victory over Britain's Daniel Evans in their men's singles match on day three of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on 16 January 2019. Picture: AFP

MELBOURNE - Roger Federer clinically swept into the Australian Open last 16 Friday as in-form Ashleigh Barty rallied home hopes by setting up a clash with Caroline Wozniacki or Maria Sharapova.

The Swiss great tamed big-serving American Taylor Fritz 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena to stay on track for a third successive title at Melbourne Park and a 21st Grand Slam crown.

On a rain-affected day that prevented early play on outside courts, the 37-year-old showed no mercy to the 21-year-old in his 100th match on the centre court in Melbourne.

"I had a really good feeling out here today against someone who can be dangerous," said Federer after reaching the Melbourne fourth round for the 17th time -- more than anyone else ever.

"Taylor played really well. He is going to have many more years on tour playing at this level. It is pretty cool to watch him play."

The double defending champion is gunning for a record seventh Australian title. If goes on to win the tournament, he will become the first man ever to claim seven or more crowns at two Slams, having already won eight Wimbledons.

Next up for him is fiery Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 14th seed who beat Georgia's 19th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4.

Rafael Nadal plays a night match against a player he calls "one of the best in the world", referring to Australian teenager Alex de Minaur who won the Sydney International last week and is on seven-match win streak.

"He's young, very young. He is winning a lot of matches. So let's see. Going to be a tough one," said Nadal, the 2009 champion who is searching for an 18th Grand Slam title.

The winner will face Tomas Berdych, who rallied to beat Argentine 18th seed Diego Schwartzman 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The Czech veteran reached the semi-finals in 2014 and 2015 but is unseeded this year as he returns from a back injury that almost forced his retirement last year.

Nadal is followed on court by Germany's second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 title holder who takes on Australian youngster Kimberley Birrell.

NOT HEALTHY

Defending champion Wozniacki has a blockbuster showdown later with five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, with the victor to play Barty, who bounced Greece's Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-1.

Barty, the 15th seed, is yet to drop a set in her best performance at Melbourne Park and has won seven of eight matches this month to back up a title victory in Zhuhai late last year.

"Maria's a great friend of mine, we've had some exceptional matches in the past. So I'm happy to come through in straight set and find my way towards the end there," she said.

No Australian woman has won the season-opening Grand Slam at Melbourne Park since Christine O'Neill in 1978.

Day five resumed as a row flared after a women's match started at 12.30am on Friday and didn't finish until 3:12 am.

Briton Johanna Konta was beaten by two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in three tough sets and blasted the latest ever start to an Australian Open match as "dangerous".

"I don't agree with athletes having to physically exert themselves in the wee hours of the morning," she said. "I don't think it is healthy -- in fact it is quite dangerous."

In a bizarre twist, Konta said organisers looked at switching the match to an outside court but found it was covered with bird droppings.

In other matches Friday, last year's losing finalist Marin Cilic plays Spain's Fernando Verdasco while former US Open winner Sloane Stephens takes on Petra Martic.

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