Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the match against Australia's Matthew Ebden at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/EDGAR SU
Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the match against Australia's Matthew Ebden at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, January 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/EDGAR SU

Melbourne —  Roger Federer ground out a tough three-set win to make the Australian Open third round for an incredible 20th straight year on Wednesday, with long-time rival Rafael Nadal and women’s defending champion Caroline Wozniacki also safely through.

But it was an early exit for South African Kevin Anderson, who slumped out to young American Frances Tiafoe and became the highest seed, at five, to be sent packing so far.

On an overcast day at Melbourne Park, second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 winner, and former US Open champion Sloane Stephens joined the big guns in progressing, but the women’s side also saw a top 10 player crash. Ninth seed Kiki Bertens, who raced through the rankings in 2018 after winning three titles, was whipped in three sets by Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Federer, 37, is not showing his age, with British qualifier Dan Evans the latest to fall under his spell as he works towards a third successive Australian crown and 21st Major victory.

He defeated Evans at Wimbledon in 2018 with the loss of just eight games, but it was a much harder assignment this time, winning 7-6 (7/5) 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

“I think if I could have pulled away earlier in the match it might have been easier,” said the third seed. “I think he played very well, it was hard to pull away to his credit.”

The Swiss star’s Australian achievements so far put him on a par with other six-time winners Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson — although the Australian great’s victories all came before the Open era.

Federer next plays American Taylor Fritz. If he goes on to win the tournament, he will become the first man to claim seven or more titles at two Grand Slams, having already won eight Wimbledons.

Seventeen-time Slam winner Nadal had an easier route to round three, outclassing local hope Matthew Ebden 6-3 6-2 6-2. The Spaniard is bidding for his own slice of history by becoming the first man in the Open era, and only the third in history with Emerson and Rod Laver, to win each Grand Slam on two or more occasions.

“I played a solid match, I was happy with the way I served. I did a few things very well,” said Nadal, who next plays Australian Alex de Minaur. “It is an honour to play ... a great atmosphere.”

Anderson, beaten by Djokovic in the 2018 Wimbledon final, was sent home by Tiafoe 4-6 6-4 7-5.

The fifth seed struggled with an elbow injury early in the clash and could not cope with Tiafoe’s power and finesse.

Sixth seed Marin Cilic, who lost in the 2018 final to Federer, had no such dramas, grinding past American Mackenzie McDonald in four sets. The Croat now plays Spanish 26th seed Fernando Verdasco. Dane Wozniacki, who is battling rheumatoid arthritis, steamrolled Sweden’s Johanna Larsson 6-1 6-3 as she bids to become the first woman to defend the title since Victoria Azarenka in 2013.

“I thought I started pretty well, started aggressively, but she started making less errors and I was just trying to stay cons i s t e nt ,” Wozniacki said.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber dominated Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2 6-3 to stay on a collision course with Stephens in the quarterfinals.

AFP