MELBOURNE, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki was knocked out of the Australian Open by former world number one Maria Sharapova, who fired a warning to the rest of the field with a resounding three-set win on Friday.
Five-times Grand Slam winner Sharapova struck 37 winners in a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win to set up a fourth-round clash with home favourite Ashleigh Barty.
Wozniacki, who was competing as a defending champion at a Grand Slam for the first time, said it was just one of those days after being outplayed by her Russian opponent.
“In tennis, you’re one on one, you battle and you do your best. One day you win, some days you lose,” the Dane said.
“I gave it everything I had today. She was just a little bit better than me and that was really it.”
Second seed Angelique Kerber celebrated her 31st birthday with a 58-minute 6-1 6-0 win over Australian wildcard Kimberly Birrell.
In the men’s draw, 17-times Grand Slam winner Rafa Nadal needed six match points to overcome Australian number one Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4 in a little over two hours.
Defending champion Roger Federer produced a serving masterclass to put away American Taylor Fritz 6-2 7-5 6-2 under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
The 37-year-old Swiss will next face Greek 14th seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3 3-6 7-6(7) 6-4.
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Australian Open order of play on Saturday
Highlights of Friday’s fifth day of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the year (all times GMT):
After saving two match points in the fourth set tiebreak, sixth seed Marin Cilic overcame Spanish 35-year-old Fernando Verdasco 4-6 3-6 6-1 7-6(8) 6-3 to reach the last 16.
Second seed Angelique Kerber celebrated her 31st birthday with a 6-1 6-0 win over Australian wildcard Kimberly Birrell.
The German Wimbledon champion will next face American Danielle Collins for a place in the quarter-finals.
Second seed Rafa Nadal was not pleased by a time violation from chair umpire Carlos Ramos on his sixth match point but he got the job done by beating Australian number one Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4.
The Spaniard becomes the first player to start an Australian Open campaign by defeating three opponents representing Australia since Phil Dent in 1979.
When asked about fourth round opponent Tomas Berdych, Nadal said: “He has been off the court for a while but he played the first week of the season and did it well.
“He has confidence after the comeback. When you are playing well after a tough time with injuries, that helps the energy even more. I predict a very tough match.”
Frances Tiafoe was pushed to five sets in the third round but found a way past Italian Andreas Seppi to seal a 6-7(3) 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-3 win in three hours and 17 minutes.
The American, who stunned fifth seed Kevin Anderson in the previous round, takes on Grigor Dimitrov next.
Grigor Dimitrov endured a stern test early in his third round match against Italian Thomas Fabbiano before the 20th seed prevailed 7-6(5) 6-4 6-4 in a little over two hours.
Former champion Maria Sharapova battled past holder Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 4-6 6-3 in a third round thriller.
Denmark’s Wozniacki raced to a 4-1 lead in the opening set but Sharapova raised her level and reeled off the next five games to grab the early advantage in the contest.
The second set followed a similar pattern before Wozniacki took advantage of Sharapova’s sloppy serving late on to drag the match into a decider.
The Russian was not to be denied in the third set, however, as she closed out the win on her second match point in two hours and 24 minutes.
American Sloane Stephens, seeded fifth, beat Croatia’s Petra Martic 7-6(6) 7-6(5) to move into the fourth round where she meets Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Former U.S. Open champion Stephens has won both previous meetings with the unseeded Russian, including a three-set victory at Beijing last year.
American teenager Amanda Anisimova pulled off an upset by swatting aside 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka 6-3 6-2.
The unseeded 17-year-old, who reached the quarter-finals at Auckland earlier this month, prevailed in 65 minutes to set up a fourth-round clash with Petra Kvitova or Belinda Bencic.
Holder Roger Federer cruised past unseeded American Taylor Fritz 6-2 7-5 6-2 in 88 minutes for his third consecutive straight-sets win in this year’s tournament.
Tomas Berdych dropped the opening set but recovered to overcome Diego Schwartzman 5-7 6-3 7-5 6-4. The Czech missed the last six months of 2018 due to a back issue but has since returned to form, reaching the final of the Qatar Open earlier this month.
Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3 3-6 7-6(7) 6-4 to reach the last 16 at Melbourne for the first time and equal his best Grand Slam result.
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty beat Maria Sakkari 7-5 6-1 under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena following morning showers.
The temperature at Melbourne Park was hovering around the 25 degrees Celsius mark on a cloudy day. (Compiled by Shrivathsa Sridhar and Hardik Vyas; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Toby Davis)