Nishikori tops Ferrer to reach quarterfinals

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori earned an Australian Open quarterfinal date with Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka after defeating Spanish No. 9 seed David Ferrer in straight sets on Monday.

Nishikori, the fifth seed, ran the 32-year-old Spaniard ragged in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 fourth-round victory to set up a quarterfinal against the fourth-seeded Wawrinka, whom he defeated last September in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. It will be Nishikori’s first appearance in the Melbourne quarterfinals in three years.

“I’ve been playing really well, and I’m really happy to win today,” said Nishikori, who mentioned two days earlier he was still uncomfortable being ranked as high as fifth in the world.

“I just need some time. But I’m getting a lot of confidence.”

In a match between players with similar styles, Nishikori’s superior quickness and backhand proved to be the difference. As he often does, Nishikori returned nearly everything and forced his opponent to run from one side of the court to another.

While both players won points on amazing saves, Ferrer’s legs looked heavy in the final set as he simply gave up on a number of Nishikori’s winners. It was Nishikori’s fifth straight victory over Ferrer.

Wawrinka advanced after a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (10-8) fourth-round win against Spain’s Guillermo Garcia Lopez that lasted over three hours. Wawrinka owns a 2-1 record against Nishikori, despite losing in five sets to him at the U.S. Open.

“He’s a tough, tough player,” Wawrinka said of Nishikori. “He improved a lot last year. He’s a great shot maker. He can make winners. Doesn’t matter, he’s always taking the ball really early. It’s always tough to play against him. He doesn’t give you a lot of time.

“It’s a new year. Different condition. And it will depend a little bit on me; the way I’m going to serve, the way I’m aggressive from the baseline. If I can play heavy, if I can play my game, it’s tough for him to always take the ball early. We’ll see how I’m going to deal with that.”

Serena Williams dug deep for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 comeback win over Garbine Muguruza to reach the quarterfinals on the women’s side of the draw.

The top-ranked Williams was pushed all the way by No. 24-seed Muguruza, who matched her in the heavy-hitting stakes and had conceded only four games to Williams in a second-round upset last year at the French Open.

Five-time Australian Open winner Williams next faces Dominika Cibulkova, who beat two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Williams hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park since winning her last title here in 2010. She went out in the fourth round last year, and followed that up with the 6-2, 6-2 loss to Muguruza at Roland Garros — her most lopsided loss at a major.

“She made me play a lot better. I had to play the best match of the tournament or else I was going to be out,” Williams said of her avenging win. “I think she was just hitting winners like left and right. Every shot I hit, she basically hit a winner on. So I had to change my approach.”

There was a lot to distract Williams in the first set. Six planes were doing coordinated loops and tricks in the sky over Rod Laver Arena, as part of the national day celebrations in downtown Melbourne. She had difficulty breathing at times, and had a heaving coughing fit into a towel at a changeover.

“I’ve been a little sick the past couple days but I just love it here,” Williams said, when asked if she’d swallowed a fly. “When I got down, I was thinking, ‘What can I do now?’ Whatever happens, I thought, I’ve won this five times.”