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Juan Martin del Potro cruises by Kei Nishikori at Miami Open

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori was defeated by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets on Sunday and was forced to make a third-round exit at the Miami Open.

Nishikori could only muster one break-point opportunity against the world No. 6, which the Argentine saved in a 6-2, 6-2 rout over the Japanese in 72 minutes.

“I started out well, but I’m still lacking confidence and don’t feel stable enough. I made so many mistakes in the second set that I felt like it wasn’t even a game anymore,” Nishikori said. “But I wasn’t completely overwhelmed, and there were some positive things that came out of it.”

Former world No. 4 Nishikori held del Potro back until the Argentine turned the first set 3-2, going on to win 77 percent of both his first and second serves. Del Potro shot six aces to Nishikori’s two and converted four of 13 break points in the lopsided victory.

“It’s frustrating that I couldn’t play at 100 percent. I wanted to play a little harder,” Nishikori said.

At this tournament, the world No. 33 received a bye in the first round as the 26th seed and beat Australian John Millman in the second round.

Nishikori returned to competition in January after a season-ending wrist injury last August but withdrew from the BNP Paribas Open earlier this month due to illness.

Del Potro, who has won six of eight matches with the Japanese, advanced to a fourth-round meeting with Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic.

Nishikori is expected to play in the April 15-22 Monte Carlo Masters, the first clay-court match of the ATP season in Europe.

Elsewhere, when Venus Williams slammed a forehand winner on the final point to win a seesaw marathon, she had enough energy left to spin in delight at the net, a triumphant fist leading the way.

Some 21 years after her Key Biscayne debut, wins at the Miami Open remain something to celebrate.

Williams squandered an early lead, fell behind late and then overcame three match points to rally past Kiki Bertens in the third round, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.

Williams blew a 5-0 lead in the first set and was down 5-3 in the third set. But she swept the final four games, holding serve at love for the victory.

“It didn’t look good sometimes,” Williams told the supportive crowd. “But that’s why you keep playing until the last point. And that’s why I love this game.”

The match took nearly three hours on the hottest day of the tournament so far, and the 37-year-old Williams now must recover quickly to next play defending champion Johanna Konta. The No. 11-seeded Konta advanced with much less drama, beating No. 22 Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-1.

In men’s play, No. 2 Marin Cilic swept Vasek Pospisil 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), while No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov lost to Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 6-4.

Williams regrouped after a disastrous opening set, which she was four times a single point away from winning. In the final set she erased two match points at 5-3, and another in the next game.

The stadium was nearly full by the finish. Williams, who lives in South Florida and has long been a favorite with Key Biscayne fans, said they kept her going.

“I felt everybody behind me,” she told them. “My opponent played well. I had a lot of chances; she had a lot of chances. I hope it was really entertaining for you all.”

Williams, who is seeded No. 8, won the tournament way back in 1998, 1999 and 2001. Last year she reached the semifinal, and this year she outlasted her sister, eight-time champion Serena Williams, who was upset in the first round.

“I love it here,” Venus said. “This was my first big win. I have a lot of great memories. I hope I can get another win this year. You never know.”