Reigning champion Kei Nishikori made quick work of Feliciano Lopez, walloping the Spaniard in a straight-sets victory Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the Rakuten Japan Open.
The world No. 13 Nishikori needed little over an hour to put away Lopez, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0 in the final singles match of the day on center court at Ariake Tennis Forest Park.
In an earlier match, big serving Canadian third seed Milos Raonic powered past Jeremy Chardy of France in a clinical 6-4, 6-3 win to advance to the next round for a meeting against Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, a 7-5, 6-4 winner over French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the first match of the day.
Lopez, 32, had held a 2-1 advantage in previous match-ups with the Japanese ace, but with a partisan crowd rallying behind Nishikori, the Spaniard seemed to lose the script after forcing the tiebreaker in the first set.
The 23-year-old Nishikori, who moved dynamically from the baseline and won 80 percent of points on his first serve, broke his opponent three times for a clean sweep in the final set to reach his fourth quarterfinal of the year.
Until the final set, he said he struggled to get going before opening up the floodgates.
“I wasn’t serving very well and my feet weren’t really moving well. But in the tiebreak, I was able to turn up the gears and focus for points. Until the tiebreak, I wasn’t really revved up,” said Nishikori, who will face No. 6 seed Nicolas Almagro in a quarterfinal match on Friday.
“The key was that I was able to switch the momentum from the tiebreak. My first serve was also getting better. I try not to think too much (about being defending champion). I took some time to win my first match (Tuesday), but I feel like I’m playing better now.”
The 22-year-old Raonic, who reeled off 24 aces in a 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) drubbing of Go Soeda a day earlier, was back in destruction mode as he produced 17 aces and improved to 3-0 in head-to-head matches against the Frenchman.
The pair exchanged volleys early on in a largely even contest, until world No. 11 Raonic broke Chardy at 5-4 to take the first set and got his second break to go up 4-2 in the second.
“I’m playing well match by match. It’s a court I enjoy playing on. I have a good sense of reaction on the court,” said Raonic, who won the Thailand Open last week in a victory over top-seed Thomas Berdych in Bangkok.
“There’s a comfort (I feel on this court). Knowing I’ve done well in the past. I enjoy the atmosphere within the crowd. I think those are the many things that help me do well here,” he said.
Asked about who he hopes to face later in the draw, with a possible rematch of last year’s final against Nishikori looming, Raonic said, “All I’m worried about is tomorrow against Lucas. I will focus on my match tomorrow. Lucas doesn’t have anything to lose; he’s very dangerous. I have to control the center of the court and be the aggressor and not let him.”
Earlier, Almagro whipped Argentine Horacio Zeballos 6-4, 6-2 to reach the final eight. It was their second career match-up, with Spaniard beating Zeballos in straight sets this year in the quarterfinals in Acapulco.
Lacko reached the final eight in the ATP World Tour for the third time this year and for the ninth time in his career.
Serena battles to victory
Serena Williams edged her way into the quarterfinals of the China Open on Thursday, claiming victory over Maria Kirilenko in two unconvincing sets, with the scores finishing 7-5, 7-5.
The world No. 1 was forced to summon extra strength at the end of each set as her Russian opponent became increasingly aggressive.
Kirilenko was poised to claim the first set, being 40-0 ahead with the score at 5-4 in her favor, but after missing three set points, Williams stepped up a gear to overturn the score line.
The top seed was also forced to come from behind in the second set, with Kirilenko, a former winner in Beijing in 2005, leading at 4-3. But Williams broke back Kirilenko’s serve before closing in on victory in the third-round match.
It was the second unconvincing victory in Beijing for Williams, who only showed rare moments of her trademark power play when she overcame Italian Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-5 in her second-round match.
In the quarterfinals, Williams will play either Sloane Stephens or Caroline Wozniacki, who clash at Beijing’s National Tennis Centre on Thursday evening.
Eighth seed Jelana Jankovic ruthlessly disposed of Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in her third-round match, with the Serb, taking both sets 6-0, 6-0.
In the men’s tournament, top-seeded Novak Djokovic overcame Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 to reach the tournament quarterfinals.
Djokovic won the first three games en route to taking the first set, but Verdasco fought back in the second by breaking the top-ranked Serb in the third and seventh games.
However, Djokovic again jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the decider and closed out the victory with ease.
Djokovic will next take on American Sam Querrey, who upset sixth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 6-3, 7-6 (7-2).
Sixth seed Stanislas Warwinka was dumped out by American Sam Querrey 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) in their second-round match.