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Nishikori beats Bautista Agut to reach Miami Open quarters

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori reached the Miami Open quarterfinals for the third successive year Tuesday with a straight-sets victory over Roberto Bautista Agut.

The sixth-seeded Nishikori won 6-2, 6-4 and will face Gael Monfils on Thursday. Monfils beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-3 to advance.

“I thought I had a really good performance,” Nishikori said. “I was able to stay aggressive throughout the match and was in control. I played some good tennis.”

The world No. 6 had swept Bautista Agut in their three past meetings, all on clay, and continued his dominance over the Spaniard on this night.

With two wins this season, Bautista Agut defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the previous round, but was broken three times in the opening set against Nishikori.

Nishikori was never in danger of letting the match slip away in the second set, finishing off his opponent in 1 hour, 24 minutes before calling it an evening at well past 11 p.m.

“I can see the ball much better at night,” said Nishikori, who is out to win his first masters event. “(Monfils) doesn’t make too many mistakes but he also doesn’t attack much either.

“I need to be aggressive and take the match to him in order to win. I need to be really prepared.”

Elsewhere at the Miami Open, Novak Djokovic rolled his eyes after a backhand found the net, shrugged after an early barrage of errors and even heard the crowd at times pulling for his opponent.

None of it wound up mattering. Even when not at his sharpest, Djokovic is nearly impossible to beat.

Looking for his fifth title at Key Biscayne in six years, the world’s top player reached the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 14th-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria.

Djokovic will meet seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych — who grinded out a three-set win over 10th-seeded Richard Gasquet of France — in the semifinals.

“It was far from easy,” said Djokovic, who survived nine double-faults. “I struggled a lot.”

Djokovic moved to 25-1 on the year, 27-1 in his past 28 matches at Key Biscayne. The Serbian star also moved a step closer to becoming the tournament’s first back-to-back-to-back winner since Andre Agassi in 2001, 2002 and 2003. He fended off 14 of the 15 break points he faced and hasn’t dropped a set so far in the tournament.

“That’s a positive, in a way,” Djokovic said of his success on break points. “I try not to get myself in those positions too much.”

Thiem was no pushover, and seemed the farthest thing from intimidated.

He cranked his serve up to 227 kph, recorded 11 of the match’s first 16 winners and twice got games on Djokovic’s serve to last 10 minutes before the world No. 1 would ultimately prevail.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising, since he and Djokovic came into the day leading the tour with 24 wins apiece this year.

“With one of 15 break points, you cannot beat anyone, probably,” Thiem said. “For sure, not Djokovic.”

Thiem nearly broke Djokovic to get to 5-4 in the first, before a review showed that the backhand that looked like a winner actually sailed a tad long. Djokovic hopped from his seat — he was already in changeover mode — and took advantage, winning to finish off the opening set. He double-faulted to give Thiem a break and knot the second set at 3-3, but broke right back and eventually closed out the win.

“He’s still very young,” Djokovic said of Thiem, 22, the youngest player ranked in the top 20. “He’s been playing some of his best tennis the last couple of months. We’ll definitely see a lot of him in the future.”