MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Kei Nishikori mastered Dusan Lajovic and the searing heat to reach the Australian Open third round in straight sets on Thursday.
In brutal temperatures, the Japanese 16th seed kept the match to just 1 hour, 49 minutes before prevailing 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) over the Serb.
Nishikori, 24, now coached by former French Open champion Michael Chang and playing in heat of 41 C reached the third round for the fourth consecutive year.
“I think I felt much hotter than the first day I played,” Nishikori said. “I finished early today so it helped my body.”
Nishikori was on court for 3 hours, 41 minutes before subduing Australian Marinko Matosevic in a five-setter in Tuesday’s opening match.
Nishikori won the opening two sets on Thursday in just 49 minutes, but he fought off a third set point from Lajovic before taking the match on a tiebreak.
“I was playing amazing, actually. In the first and second sets I was playing really aggressive, big forehand, and serve as well,” said Nishikori.
“But he started coming back, he was playing a little better and I’m very happy to finish the tiebreak strongly.”
It was a polished performance by the Japanese star, who broke the Serb’s service six times and was only broken once, in the eighth game of the final set.
“I’m playing good with good confidence and my body is OK,” Nishikori said. “The first match was five sets, but I recovered well and played strongly today. Everything is good.”
Nishikori was particularly strong on his forehand with 16 winners among his overall total of 30 winners, while conceding 27 unforced errors.
It set up Nishikori with a third-round encounter against either Italian 24th seed Andreas Seppi, who knocked Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt out in the opening round, or American Donald Young.
Nishikori, who beat Tomas Berdych in the Kooyong Classic final last weekend, enjoyed his best Grand Slam result two years ago in Melbourne when he reached the last eight.
Lajovic lost the decisive fifth rubber to Radek Stepanek when the Czech Republic retained the Davis Cup over Serbia in last year’s final in Belgrade in November.
The scorching weather finally brought play to a halt when the temperature topped 43 degrees, but not soon enough for some players who criticized officials for not stopping matches earlier.
The Extreme Heat Policy was enacted at Melbourne Park just before 2 p.m., suspending all matches on outer courts until the early evening and requiring the closure of the retractable roofs at Rod Laver and Hisense arenas before play could continue on the show courts.
It was the first time since 2009 play had been halted due to heat at the Australian Open.
For Maria Sharapova, playing at Rod Laver Arena, the call came too late. The rule dictates the roof can’t be closed until the end of a set in progress, so she was forced to finish a grueling third set against Italian Karin Knapp under the blazing sun.
“Everyone knows there is no tiebreaker in the third set (at the Australian Open), so once you start that set, you’re going to be out there until you’re done,” she said after closing out the 3½-hour match, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.
Other players wilted in the heat. American Varvara Lepchenko received medical treatment during her match against 11th-seeded Romanian Simona Halep, lying flat on her back during a changeover as trainers rubbed iced on her body.
Roger Federer played his first Australian Open match away from Rod Laver Arena in a decade and beat Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) to reach the third round.
Federer had played 63 matches in a row at Rod Laver Arena until being assigned to the secondary 10,000-seat Hisense Arena for Thursday’s match.
Elsewhere, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal beat 17-year-old home hope Thanasi Kokkinakis in straight sets to reach the third round.
Nadal was kept on court for 1 hour and 53 minutes before winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 against the 570th-ranked Australian.