INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Aiming to win his first Masters event, world No. 6 Kei Nishikori advanced to the third round of the BNP Paribas Open with a straight-sets, second-round win on Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Japanese defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3 to remain unbeaten in his career against the Kazakh world No. 90, whom Nishikori has beaten three times this season.
“I played a really patient game,” Nishikori said. “I wouldn’t call it perfect, but it was good tennis.”
Although Nishikori’s shots lacked energy in the first set, he was able to exploit Kukushkin’s erratic service game to earn three breaks. In the second set, Nishikori began attacking from his serve, and didn’t face a single break point.
“My intent was to come in focused during the opening games,” he said.
Last season, Nishikori failed to reach a Masters quarterfinal round and said his goal this year is to finally win one. In the past, Nishikori has struggled with the high bounces that the high altitude and lively surface at Indian Wells creates.
“The dislike I’ve had over a number of years for this event has really diminished,” he said.
Both players were coming off impressive Davis Cup defeats, Kukushkin pressing world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to five sets, and Nishikori doing the same with world No. 2 Andy Murray.
Next up for Nishikori is American Steve Johnson, a 6-4, 6-2 second-round winner over Australian John Millman. Nishikori is 3-0 over Johnson in his career.
In the women’s draw, Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara’s run ended in a third-round defeat to world No. 37 Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic. Nara, ranked 89th in the world, double faulted six times to give away the match.
Djokovic opened his bid for a third straight Indian Wells title by surviving an unexpected challenge from American qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“All credit to Bjorn on playing a great match, but I wasn’t feeling comfortable at all on the court,” the top-ranked Djokovic said after extending his winning streak at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to 12 matches. “I was just trying to find a way, trying to hang in there and make it through.”
The 22-year-old Fratangelo was the French Open boys’ champion in 2011 and turned pro in 2012, but has been playing almost exclusively on the satellite tours. He’s ranked No. 149 and his first-round win Friday was his first in four matches on the ATP World Tour.
He took a 4-0 lead in the opening set and kept the match interesting until Djokovic got back-to-back service breaks en route to winning the final five games.
“He deserved every point he got,” Djokovic said. “He played a great match, especially in the first set.”
Djokovic took the court after Serena Williams moved into the women’s fourth round with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 victory over Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva.