No. 1 seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina strolled past countryman Carlos Berlocq in straight sets to reach the Japan Open quarterfinals Wednesday.
In their first career meeting, seventh-ranked del Potro made efficient work of Berlocq in slightly over an hour, going through 6-2, 6-2 to become the first to qualify for the last eight at Ariake Tennis Forest Park.
In the day’s first match, last year’s finalist and newly crowned Thailand Open champion Milos Raonic blasted Go Soeda out of the tournament with 24 aces in a two-set, first-round victory.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, winner in 2009, became the first big-name casualty as the No. 2 seed’s left-knee injury flared up and he was sent packing by Croatia’s Ivan Dodig 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
“I felt better than yesterday,” said del Potro, who needed three sets to get by Marcos Baghdatis in Tuesday’s first round. “I served well, I hit my forehands really strong. I was confident about winning the match and my strategy was just to be aggressive all the time.”
Del Potro broke his opponent four times while saving the only break point he faced. The 2008 runnerup, making his sixth appearance in Tokyo, won his first break point in the opening game and never looked back.
Del Potro took five straight games off Berlocq in the second set to book a quarterfinal date with Alexandr Dolgopolov, who ousted eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 7-6 (7-2).
The Argentine is out for his third title of the season here, after Washington in July and Rotterdam in February, which will help him cement his place in the top eight to qualify for next month’s ATP World Tour Finals.
Five of the eight places for the Finals in London are still up for grabs. From the Japan Open field, del Potro, Raonic and Tsonga are all eyeing a berth at the season-ending tournament, although Tsonga .
“I think for every player it’s hard to play at this time of the season, tired from a long year,” del Potro said. “I had the longest trip to get here, but I’m playing an important tournament in my career.”
Hot off the heels of winning in Bangkok on Sunday, third seed Raonic and his sledgehammer serves were just too much for Japanese wild card Soeda, who made a fast exit after a 6-4, 7-6 (6-0) defeat before a sympathetic crowd.
The 11th-ranked Raonic, who lost a three-set final to Kei Nishikori a year ago, won 95 percent of his first serve points and never faced break point.
Raonic, 22, said he’s a much improved player compared to 2012, appearing determined to return to the final.
“I feel like I’m a much better player than I was this time last year,” the Canadian said. “I’ve had a lot of experiences in the last year which sort of helped me deal with tougher situations better.”
“As far as Kei, he’s definitely a favorite here. The crowd helps, and him being used to this situation and playing Davis Cup here not too long ago helps him.”
“But I think there are still a lot of other guys that are very dangerous and very capable. There’s Juan, there’s Jo, there’s still so many great guys playing who are difficult to beat.”
Soeda admitted he didn’t have much of a chance against Raonic.
“Apart from the first game, I didn’t get the feeling I was ever going to break him,” Soeda said. “It was just a little too difficult.”
“It’s not only his serves, either. He’s good off the ground, too. His serves aren’t just fast, but they come at you at a tough angle. Not too many guys on the tour can consistently hit 200 kph the way he does.”
Tsonga said he is three months into a five-month recovery plan, and is prohibited by his doctors from overexerting the knee. The only reason the Frenchman plays in his current state is because he wants to be seeded at next year’s Australian Open.
“You’re never happy to lose in the second round when you come to play a tournament, but I’m not shocked by this result,” Tsonga said. “It’s already difficult when you have two legs but when you have one and a half, it’s complicated.”