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Nishikori beats Ebden, targets Wimbledon quarterfinals

AFP-JIJI, AP

Kei Nishikori set his sights on emulating Shuzo Matsuoka’s famous run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals as the 12th seed cruised into the second round with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 win over Australian wild-card Matthew Ebden on Tuesday.

Nishikori last year became the first Japanese man to reach the third round at the All England Club since 1995 and he is aiming even higher this time.

The world No. 11, who in 2012 became the first Japanese male quarterfinalist at the Australian Open for 80 years, believes he can emulate his former junior coach Matsuoka, who made the Wimbledon last eight in 1995, before losing to Pete Sampras, in Japan’s best men’s performance at the tournament.

“That’s going to be my next goal, to go to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon,” Nishikori said.

“You know, you have to beat top 10 guys maybe twice to get to quarterfinal. But I’m getting stronger on grass courts and getting confidence, so hopefully I can do it.”

Equaling Matsuoka’s landmark achievement would mean the world to Nishikori, who idolizes his compatriot and spent time working with him in the early stages of his career.

“Yeah, for sure he was one of my idols. He was coaching me when I was young, too, so he was giving me a lot of advice,” Nishikori said.

Nishikori, who reached the fourth round at the recent French Open, before losing to eventual winner Rafael Nadal, was never troubled by Ebden and brushed the world No. 110 aside in emphatic fashion.

The Florida-based star needed only one hour and 41 minutes on Court 14 and he next faces Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, who defeated Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

Nishikori believes he is growing more confident on grass after reaching the quarterfinals of the London Olympics at Wimbledon last year and he was delighted with the way he dismissed Ebden.

“I played good last year on grass, I got to the third round at Wimbledon and it was good beating David Ferrer in Olympics,” said Nishikori. “It was a big experience for me. This year I played only one match and in Halle I lost in the first round, so I had a little bit of doubt about grass courts again.

“But I played well today. When it’s the first round it’s not easy, but I started really well. The last two games were a little bit rough, I have to say. But otherwise I played I think unbelievably well. A lot of powerful backhands and a lot of winners from the backhand. That was the key.”

Nishikori won’t be underestimating the threat posed by Mayer after spending many hours practising with the world No. 84.

“We practice a lot but we never played before. He has a good serve, a big serve on grass,” Nishikori said. “He has big groundstrokes as well, so he’s going to be a tough opponent.”

Elsewhere at Wimbledon, Serena Williams delivered a statement that no one can argue with: When her powerful serve is clicking, she’s still the woman to beat at the All England Club.

Putting aside her recent comments that led to a couple of apologies and a brief spat with Maria Sharapova, Williams looked every bit the five-time champion as she began her Wimbledon title defense with a routine 6-1, 6-3 victory over Mandy Minella of Luxembourg.

“For me, it’s the greatest moment for a tennis player, to walk out on Centre Court,” Williams said after her first match at Wimbledon since winning Olympic gold here last year. “That was such a great moment too. So many great memories on this court.”

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic also opened his campaign with a straight-sets victory, beating Florian Mayer of Germany 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Mayer is a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist — losing to Djokovic at that stage last year — but never looked like causing another major upset a day after Rafael Nadal’s stunning first-round exit.

Djokovic took a 3-0 lead in the first set and broke for a 6-5 lead in the second to take firm control. He served out the match to love before saluting the Centre Court crowd with a fist pump.

“It was a big pleasure again performing here on Centre Court in front of the packed crowd,” Djokovic said. “For the first round, it was tricky.”