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Nishikori outlasts Lacko, faces Gasquet in quarters

AFP-JIJI, AP

Kei Nishikori battled through a second challenging three-set test Thursday to reach the Citi Open quarterfinals where he’ll face an opponent he has never beaten, Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

Nishikori, the fourth seed, outlasted Slovakian Lukas Lacko 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in the third round while the sixth-seeded Gasquet downed Tim Smyczek 6-3, 6-2.

“I’m sure it’s going to be the toughest match this week,” Nishikori said. “I’ve never beaten him so it’s going to be a big challenge.”

Gasquet, ranked 14th in the world, is a career 4-0 against the 11th-ranked Nishikori, having dropped only one set to him.

Gasquet won their first meeting in Tokyo in 2008, was the victor again in London in 2010, and won twice last year at the Montreal and Paris ATP Masters series events.

“He has a great serve, strong forehand and backhand and he’s very talented,” Nishikori said. “I have to serve better than I did today.”

Nishikori fired eight aces but made six double faults and connected on only 53 percent of his first serves against Lacko.

“It was tough,” Nishikori said. “The second set he began playing much better. Maybe I lost concentration but I fought through it in the third set.”

Nishikori jumped ahead 4-0, before Lacko won the next three games only to have Nishikori raise his level and break him to claim his second consecutive three-set triumph.

“It’s a positive for me to win in three sets two matches in a row,” Nishikori said, noting that he wanted matches to build confidence after a three-week layoff since Wimbledon.

Nishikori, 24, is seeking his sixth career ATP title and third of the season after defending a crown at Memphis and collecting a clay-court title at Barcelona. He also won in 2008 at Delray Beach and at Tokyo in 2012.

Vasek Pospisil also advanced, beating top-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-4.

Earlier, Steve Johnson knocked off another seeded, big-serving, NBA center-sized opponent, beating ninth-seeded Ivo Karlovic 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (9-7).

He’ll face seventh-ranked and second-seeded Milos Raonic, who beat No. 14 Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-3).

Venus reaches quarters

Stanford California AP

Venus Williams feels like the hometown girl when she plays at Stanford even though she grew up in Southern California and currently resides in Florida.

She has enjoyed a lot of success here, made her professional debut at the event, and the crowd was clearly supporting her.

“It’s nice to have that support,” Williams said after advancing to the Bank of the West quarterfinals Thursday night, beating fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

“It was good to hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ for both of us,” the unseeded Williams said. “I don’t want to let anybody down. This year has been a lot more relaxing than Southern California.”

Williams and Azarenka, both former world No. 1s, are working their way back into high-level tennis following injuries and illness. Williams, who is 4-0 against the Belarusian, appears slightly ahead in her development.

Fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic also advanced, beating qualifier Carol Zhao 6-1, 6-1.

The 11th-ranked Serb, looking for her fourth title of the year, will face top-ranked Serena Williams on Friday.

“It will be a tough challenge but a good test to see where I need to work,” Ivanovic said. “It’s a different part of the season and a different kind of tournament.”