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Nishikori marches on

No. 16 seed beats Berlocq in straight sets to reach final 32

AFP-JIJI, AP

Kei Nishikori thanked his enthusiastic fans Wednesday as he powered into the third round of the Australian Open with a straight-sets win over Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq.

The No. 16 seed, backed by strong support on Show Court 3, surged home after being taken to a first-set tiebreaker to oust the 68th-ranked Berlocq, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-1 in 2 hours, 18 minutes.

Nishikori has enjoyed strong form in Australia, reaching the Brisbane semis before retiring hurt and making the Australian Open quarterfinals last year, the best ever Grand Slam performance by a Japanese man.

“I feel so comfortable playing here, you know, playing last year with a lot of support. You know, it’s one of the best Grand Slams for me to play, I think,” he said.

“It’s the Asian Grand Slam, and like you see today, I had a lot of support and that makes me play better. Yeah, I love it.”

Nishikori dominated with his forehand and court speed as he reeled off 47 winners and six service breaks to take his place in the last 32.

The Japanese star had a battle in a 69-minute opening set but once he got the initial edge he proceeded to take charge, and grabbed three service breaks in the second set and another two in the final set to win easily.

“I’m happy to win the first two matches and I have been playing great, so hopefully I can go as far as last year’s quarterfinal,” Nishikori said. “That’s my goal for this year or hopefully I can go further.”

Nishikori showed no problems with the left knee injury that forced him out this month’s Brisbane International and Kooyong Classic tournaments.

“The knee’s getting better and I didn’t feel any pain today, just the hot conditions bothering me a little, but otherwise it was fine,” he said.

Nishikori’s average service speeds were down around 168 kph, and he said he was working hard on trying to serve faster.

“I don’t have a big serve like the other guys, so I need more accuracy. That’s more important I think,” he said.

“Of course, I want more speed, but like you see (No. 4 seed) David Ferrer, he’s making a lot of first serves with more control. So that’s my goal.”

Nishikori will play either 23rd seed Mikhail Youzhny or another Russian, Evgeny Donskoy, in the next round.

On Tuesday, 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm became the tournament’s oldest female winner.

“Oh, my God, it was amazing,” Nishikori said of Date-Krumm’s straight-sets win over 12th seed Nadia Petrova. “You see a score 6-2, 6-0 against an almost top 10 player . . . hopefully she wins today or tomorrow, and she makes more history. It’s good for Japan, for sure.”

No. 28 seed Marcos Baghdatis beat Tatsuma Ito in their second-round match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round without losing a game, and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanksa extended the best winning streak of the year to 11 matches.

But Sam Stosur wilted again under the pressure of expectations at home, the 2011 U.S. Open champion twice failing to serve out the match before losing 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 to China’s Zheng Jie in a second-round upset.

No. 2-ranked Sharapova, the losing finalist here last year, had a 6-0, 6-0 win over Misaki Doi in 47 minutes, conceding just 15 points to the Japanese player in the match. The reigning French Open champion hasn’t been troubled at all by a right collarbone injury that ruled her out of a warmup tournament in Brisbane.

Sharapova beat fellow Russian Olga Puchkova 6-0, 6-0 in the first round, and has so far only spent 1 hour, 42 minutes on court in two matches at Melbourne Park.

It was a contrasting story for No. 9 Stosur, who couldn’t close out. She was leading 5-2 in the third set and was only two points from advancing to the third round before Zheng, the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal when she made the last four at Wimbledon in 2008, reeled off five straight games to end Australia’s involvement in the women’s draw.

It continued a miserable run at home for Stosur, who lost in the first round here last year in her first major after beating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. Her first-round win on Monday was her first in five matches at home.

Radwanska had earlier rolled into the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu and remains unbeaten this year, including titles at warmup tournaments this month at Auckland and Sydney.

“I can play even better,” said Radwanska, who lost last year’s Wimbledon final to Serena Williams. “I didn’t really expect I could win that many matches in a row, and hopefully I can keep going.”