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Nishikori delivers strong finish in victory over Kukushkin

AFP-JIJI

Japan’s Kei Nishikori overcame a slow start to cruise past Mikhail Kukushkin and move into the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International on Wednesday.

Nishikori lost his opening serve to go 2-0 down in the first set but soon recovered to get on top of Kukushkin and ease to a 6-3, 6-4 win.

“I thought it was a great match,” the second seed said.

“(But) I didn’t start quite well — I think he really started well.”

Nishikori, who reached the final of the U.S. Open in 2014, was below his best in his first match of the season, particularly during the opening set.

His serve was initially poor but it improved as the match progressed and he faced only one break point in the second set.

“I think I served really well today. That’s also improving, so I’m very happy for that,” he said.

Nishikori also found his range with his groundstrokes and was able to force errors from his opponent from Kazakhstan.

“He was playing aggressive, great backhand, and I tried to mix it up,” Nishikori said.

“I think I went to his backhand too much (but) I tried to move the ball around and start playing better.”

It was Nishikori’s fourth straight win over Kukushkin and ensured he reached at least the quarterfinal stage in Brisbane for the fourth time in five years.

The world No. 8 will now play seventh-seeded Australian Bernard Tomic, who beat Czech veteran Radek Stepanek 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4).

Big-serving Croatian Marin Cilic, who beat Nishikori to win the 2014 U.S. Open, downed rising Korean star Chung Hyeon in two tight sets, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).

Cilic will take on Austrian Dominic Thiem after the eighth seed’s comfortable 6-3, 6-2 win over Denis Kudla of the United States.