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Nishikori eases past Gasquet at Italian Open

Kyodo, AP

World No. 6 Kei Nishikori cruised into the quarterfinals of the Italian Open with a straight-sets win over former nemesis Richard Gasquet of France on Thursday.

Nishikori, who beat the 12th-ranked Gasquet for the first time in seven meetings between the two at last week’s Madrid Open, prevailed 6-1, 6-4 in 1 hour, 28 minutes and will face 15th-ranked Austrian Dominic Thiem in the next round.

“I got off to a really strong start, especially with my backstroke down the line,” said Nishikori. “It was tough in the second set, giving up a break on the way, but I knew what I had to do.

“It’s not nice to face someone two weeks in a row but I’m glad I’ve won,” he said.

Thiem booked his spot in the last eight after pulling off a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 upset win over Switzerland’s world No. 2 Roger Federer.

Nishikori reeled off a flurry of superb winners to break Gasquet in the first game and raced into a 4-0 lead before the Frenchman held serve to win his first game in the fifth.

But Nishikori went on to clinch the first set in 27 minutes with a forehand crosscourt winner after Gasquet had double faulted.

It was more of the same in the second set, Nishikori winning the first three games and withstanding a spirited effort from Gasquet to hold serve and go 4-1 up.

Gasquet held serve and got his first break in the seventh game before pulling it back to 4-4. But Nishikori held his nerve to go 5-4 up and sealed victory when Gasquet sliced his return wide.

In the women’s draw, Misaki Doi advanced to the quarterfinals on Thursday with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Britain’s top-ranked player Johanna Konta, a semifinalist at this year’s Australian Open.

“I have been hanging tough and able to stick to my tennis style without hesitation,” Doi said.

Her next opponent will be Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu on Friday.

Federer was not concerned about losing to Thiem.

After withdrawing from the Madrid Open with lower back pain, Federer was just glad he was able to play two matches on the clay in Rome.

“It doesn’t matter how I played. (What is) important is that I didn’t have any setbacks and I was able to step on the tennis court and that I tried what I could with what I had,” said Federer, who defeated German teenager Alexander Zverev in straight sets on Wednesday.

“I knew I wasn’t good enough for any result here, so that’s why I hope you don’t read into it so much, and I don’t,” Federer said. “This is like, ‘Who cares about the results here?’ It matters what comes now in the next couple of months.”

With only 10 days before the French Open, however, Federer needs to figure out how to manage the pain.

“Time starts ticking more towards Paris,” said Federer, who also missed 10 weeks this year after surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. “The way I’m playing right now is never going to be enough for any good run in Paris, and then I also wouldn’t play this way. I’m still confident I will be fine somehow.”

Meanwhile, top-ranked Novak Djokovic and seven-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal set up an attractive quarterfinal at the Foro Italico.

Djokovic overcame a horrendous opening set in a 0-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over 37th-ranked Thomaz Bellucci, and Nadal ground past Nick Kyrgios 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 6-4.

It was the first time Djokovic was bageled in a set since a loss to Federer in the 2012 Cincinnati final.

On a cool evening, Djokovic struggled to find his range early on, committing 16 unforced errors to Bellucci’s three in the first set alone.

When Djokovic finally held serve in the opening game of the second set, he raised his arms in mock triumph, drawing applause and amusement from the crowd.

Also, Andy Murray rolled past Jeremy Chardy 6-0, 6-4, and will next face 12th-seeded David Goffin, who routed eighth-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-0, 6-0 in 49 minutes.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Serena Williams came back from 5-3 down in the opening set and saved a set point in the tiebreak to beat American qualifier Christina McHale 7-6 (9-7), 6-1.

Williams was sick on Wednesday after trying some of her dog’s food, but said she felt fine on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, it was true,” said Williams, who first shared the news on Snapchat. “I’m not the most serious person off the court. On the court I am, but off the court I don’t have a serious bone in my body.”