Tokyo - Top seed Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday
banished the demons of his early exit at last year's Japan Open, but not before
lightning had threatened to strike twice.
The French Open champion exacted revenge on
Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito, who had sent the muscular Swiss tumbling out of
the Tokyo tournament at the first hurdle 12 months ago, with a tough 6-3, 2-6,
6-4 second-round victory.
No such effort was needed from title-holder
Kei Nishikori, who toppled giant American Sam Querrey 7-6, 6-3 to reach the
quarter-finals despite failing to really catch fire.
Wawrinka pressed self-destruct after
rolling through the first set, Ito levelling with a lunging forehand down the
line that left the world number four looking to the heavens in anguish.
Normal service was resumed in the decider,
however. A viciously dipping return onto Ito's shoelaces secured Wawrinka an
early break and allowed him to play with a little less tension.
Wawrinka finally ended Ito's brave
resistance on his fourth match point after an hour and 42 minutes with a
fizzing forehand down the line.
"It wasn't my best match for
sure," Wawrinka said. "I'm just happy to win. I struggled a little
bit to find my rhythm but the most important thing for me was to get to the
Second seed Nishikori, dazzling in
canary-yellow shirt, headband and sneakers, struggled with a swirling wind in
the early skirmishes before discovering his mojo in the first-set tiebreak,
which he raced through 7-3.
Nishikori broke early in the second set and
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's always a mental battle against a
big server," said Nishikori, who is bidding to win a third Japan Open in
four years. He 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, who is chasing a fourth title of the year and the 11th of his
"After that I was able to relax a
little and I think I played some pretty decent tennis."
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 said of an event won in the past by such luminaries as
John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer.
"It's not one you win by chance. It
would be a great achievement but you need to be playing at a really high
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.