Kei Nishikori tamed big-serving American Sam Querrey 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Japan Open on Wednesday.
Defending champion Nishikori stood toe-to-toe with the 198-cm Querrey, winning all his service games under an open roof in windy conditions at Ariake Colosseum.
Nishikori prevailed in a tiebreaker to win a first-set slugfest, before breaking his world No. 50-ranked opponent early in the second set and going on to close out the match in one hour, 13 minutes.
World No. 6 Nishikori next takes on either Steve Johnson of the United States or Croatia’s Marin Cilic — Nishikori’s conqueror in the 2014 U.S. Open final and a 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 winner over qualifier Donald Young on Wednesday — in the quarterfinals.
“Recently, the best thing about my game has been my service,” said Nishikori, who fired seven aces and faced no break points all match. “My first serve has been accurate. I’m not really the best at returning serves, and this was good for my confidence.
“We both held our service easily in the first set, and that’s rare for me. Some things didn’t work out and that can’t be helped, but overall I played a good game.”
Neither player allowed even a single break point in a blood-and-thunder first set, with Querrey using his full wingspan to pound Nishikori with his booming deliveries.
“We’ve played each other a lot so I thought I would be able to predict where he was going to hit it, but today I couldn’t guess right,” said Nishikori, who went into the match with a 3-3 career record against Querrey.
“It was especially difficult to read his serves in the first set, and he was mixing up his second serves a lot. But the important thing is to concentrate during the important points and just try to get something on it.”
No. 2 seed Nishikori lost the first point of the first-set tiebreaker before winning the next five in a row and going on to claim the set.
Nishikori’s breakthrough came when he broke Querrey in the third game of the second set, giving him the platform to close out the match and setting up a potential quarterfinal with Cilic.
“He’s been playing well recently, he got good results at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon and he’s in good form,” Nishikori said of world No. 14 Cilic, who made hard work of his first-round win over Young.
“We’ve played each other a lot recently and I’m looking forward to it.”
Tournament top seed Stan Wawrinka joined Nishikori in the quarterfinals after a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over Tatsuma Ito.
Ito beat Wawrinka at last year’s tournament to register the biggest win of his career so far, but the world No. 4 was too strong this time despite a stirring comeback from the Japanese player.
“It was a tough match, three sets, and it really was not easy,” said French Open champion Wawrinka. “After losing to him last year I am happy to get through this year.
“I don’t know who I’m playing next but I have one day off and I’m going to practice well and get ready for the next match.”
Earlier in the day, Joao Sousa of Portugal beat Feliciano Lopez of Spain 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
Wednesday’s results mean half of the tournament’s top eight seeds were eliminated in the first round