MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Defending Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka avenged his only career loss to Kei Nishikori on Wednesday, when the Swiss No. 4 seed advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) win.
Last September, Nishikori beat Wawrinka in the U.S. Open quarterfinals in five grueling sets, but had few answers for Wawrinka’s power and accuracy in Melbourne, where the Swiss star fired 20 aces to Nishikori’s six and remained on course to defend his title.
The fifth-seeded Nishikori, whose serve had been very effective through his first four matches, was nowhere to be seen in the first set, while his strokes were often misplayed in a one-sided affair. Wawrinka, on the other hand, was able to give Nishikori a taste of his own medicine. The Japanese star, who normally returns extremely well and thrives on keeping his opponents uncomfortable behind the baseline with precise strokes, was himself victimized by Wawrinka’s ability to dictate the flow of play.
While Nishikori sometimes hesitated to go to the net, Wawrinka exploited most of his opportunities against his speedy opponent by rushing forward whenever Nishikori was on the ropes. Nishikori barely held serve to go up 2-1 in the second set, but was broken easily in the fifth to fall behind 3-2 with his opponent winning four straight service points to take a commanding lead. Wawrinka did not face a single break point until he was serving for the second set, and then overcame three break points to put Nishikori one set away from elimination.
The third set started auspiciously for Nishikori, who won the first eight points to go up 2-0 and earn his first service break of the day. But Wawrinka rallied to break back and leveled the set 2-2 with eight straight points. With Wawrinka serving in the eighth game, Nishikori began asserting himself with his returns and shots, only to miss a pair of golden opportunities that allowed his opponent to hold his serve and even the set. Nishikori, discovering his serve-and-volley game, had found his rhythm but it came one set too late. In the tiebreak, he lost the first four points but survived four match points to make it 6-6, but that proved to be all Nishikori could muster.
In the semifinals, Wawrinka will play either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or hard-serving eight-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic, who play in the last quarterfinal.