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Nishikori advances to quarterfinal round

KYODO, AP

Japan’s world No. 7 Kei Nishikori defeated 10th-ranked Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets on Sunday to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Nishikori won 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in just over two hours to make the last eight in Melbourne for the second year in a row. Nishikori will face either Serbian World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who survived a scare from Frenchman Gilles Simon in an 6-3, 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win.

“It felt very good (to win) especially against Jo. It’s great to win in straight sets and I thought I played a good match today so I am very happy to go into the quarterfinals,” Nishikori said on court in the post-match interview.

“I try to take one match at a time and focus on what I have to do. I will try to get a good recovery tomorrow and hopefully play another good match in the next round.”

After taking the first set, Nishikori broke Tsonga twice to take a 4-1 lead in the second set before the Frenchman, appearing to struggle with a back problem, took a medical timeout.

Tsonga, who beat Nishikori at the French Open, made a match of it in the third set, but Nishikori brought up three match points and edged one step closer to an elusive first major when Tsonga sprayed a forehand wide.

“I had room to breathe after winning the first set and it was good that I was able to get off to such a good start,” said Nishikori. “My strokes were really good today and I was able to attack his (Tsonga’s) weak points. My tactics were good and I was able to play attacking tennis.”

Nishikori, who reached the final of the 2014 U.S. Open, said he hoped to produce the same kind of performance in the last eight.

“It is Djokovic or Simon waiting in the next round so I have to prepare well but if I can play like I did today I will be in with a chance.”

Djokovic’s 100 unforced errors were the most startling statistic of the day. He said he expected it to be tough against Simon, who is relentless in long rallies, but couldn’t remember such a high number of errors. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the home of Australian cricket across the train tracks from Melbourne Park, 100 is a cherished number for runs scored by a batsman. That’s not the case for the unforced errors columns at the national tennis center.

“No, I don’t think I’ve had any number close to 100,” he said. “In terms of the level that I’ve played, it’s the match to forget for me.”

Djokovic needed 4 hours, 32 minutes, enduring relentless and long rallies before beating 31-year-old Simon.

Djokovic only lost one match in a Grand Slam last year — the French Open final — and for the sixth straight major hadn’t dropped a set in reaching the fourth round. Despite all that, he was ready to take tips from the public after his error-strewn performance.

A man in the crowd yelled out during the post-match interview that Djokovic should give up on the drop shots — some of which were incredibly ill-advised and poorly executed.

“OK, thanks buddy,” Djokovic deadpanned. “I hate to say, but you are absolutely right.”

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have confirmed their quarterfinal date at the Australian Open, each advancing in straight sets on Sunday to ensure a rematch in Melbourne Park between last year’s finalists.

Fifth-seeded Sharapova fired a career-high 21 aces and hit 58 winners in her 7-5, 7-5 win over Belinda Bencic in the first match of the day on Rod Laver Arena, converting her second match point with a successful challenge after her forehand was initially called long.

Six-time champion Williams followed it up with a 55-minute, 6-2, 6-1 win over Margarita Gasparyan.

Williams has won 18 of her 20 matches against Sharapova, including the last 17.

Asked if that gave her extra confidence, the 21-time major winner said it didn’t matter who she was playing.

“I just feel like I’m really confident in my game right now, not against her or against any other opponent,” in particular, Williams said. “I’m just really looking at me right now, and I feel like if I can just continue to play well, then it could be good.”

Williams won 26 matches in a row at the majors last season, capturing the Australia, French and Wimbledon titles and reaching the semifinals at the U.S. Open before a stunning loss to Roberta Vinci ended her run for a calendar-year Grand Slam.

That’s the driving factor here.

“For my whole career I have been motivated by losses. So that’s just been my thing,” she said. “So each time I take a loss, I feel like I get better.”

Margaret Court, the Australian great who won 24 Grand Slam singles titles and has a court named in her honor at Melbourne Park, was in the crowd watching Williams.

Under bright sunshine after the roof was opened following morning rain, Williams was broken in the opening game — her only point coming from an ace — but quickly found her groove.

No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanksa rallied from 5-2 down in the third set to win 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 7-5 against Anna-Lena Friedsam, who finished the last two games hobbling and in tears, and also conceded a point penalty on her last serve, after taking a medical timeout for what appeared to be cramps. Radwanska next plays No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, who had an 0-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Russian-born Australian Daria Gavrilova.

Sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych advanced 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 over Roberto Bautista Agut and will play the winner of the night match between five-time champion Federer and No. 15-seeded David Goffin.