Tokyo - Defending champion Kei Nishikori
toppled giant American Sam Querrey 7-6, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals of the
Japan Open on Wednesday despite failing to really catch fire.
Second seed Nishikori, who was dazzling in
canary-yellow shirt, headband and sneakers, struggled with a swirling wind in
the early skirmishes in Tokyo before discovering his mojo in the first-set
He raced through it 7-3 after a dipping
forehand forced Querrey into a wild miss.
Nishikori then secured an early break in
the second set with an exquisite drop shot to afford himself the breathing
space required to truly find his range.
The home-grown talent finished in style,
belting a backhand down the line to set up match point and plunging home the
dagger with an acrobatic smash. He celebrated with a pump of the fist and a
toothy grin at coach Michael Chang.
"It was very important to keep my
focus against such a big server," said Nishikori, who is bidding to win a
third Japan Open in four years and next faces Croatia's Marin Cilic, the player
who beat him in the 2014 US Open final.
"The first-set tiebreak was key,"
added Nishikori, chasing a fourth title of the year and the 11th of his career.
"After that I was able to relax a
little and I think I played some pretty decent tennis. But I know it's going to
get much tougher from here."
French Open champion Stan Wawrinka is also
likely to provide a stern test to Nishikori's championship credentials this
week. The top seed will take on Japan's Tatsuma Ito in Wednesday's late match.
Third seed Gilles Simon blew past Czech
Jiri Vesely 6-4, 6-2 to reach the last eight.
"It's a very tough tournament to
win," the Frenchman told AFP of an event won in the past by such
luminaries as John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Roger
"It's not one you win by chance. Each
time the winner had been in the top 10 or not far outside. It would be a great
achievement but you need to be playing at a really high level."
Seventh seed Feliciano Lopez from Spain had
nothing left in the tank after reaching last week's final in Kuala Lumpur and
was dumped out 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 by Portugal's Joao Sousa in a first-round match.
Sixth seed Cilic won his opener against
American Donald Young 7-5, 5-7, 6-4, while Luxembourg's Gilles Muller beat
Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 7-6, 7-6 to set up a quarter-final against Simon.