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Kei Nishikori starts 2019 with win

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori kicked off his 2019 campaign on a winning note Wednesday, beating American Denis Kudla 7-5, 6-2 at the Brisbane International.

Nishikori, the world No. 9 and second seed, fired seven aces and won 84 percent of his first-serve points to book a spot in the quarterfinals against 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov.

The 29-year-old did not face a single break point and wrapped up the match against the world No. 63 Bulgarian in 1 hour, 19 minutes.

“It was tough but I was able to play a good match,” Nishikori said. “The level of my opponent dropped a little after going 5-5 in the first set, and I was able to pick up my level and play aggressively.

“It was a good way to start this season’s singles matches,” added Nishikori, who reached November’s ATP Finals after coming back from a wrist injury sustained in 2017.

Nishikori has a 4-1 record against Dimitrov, who recorded his only win against the Shimane native in the 2017 Brisbane International final.

In other matches, qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama delivered the biggest upset of the day when he beat third seed Kyle Edmund of Britain 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 and reached his first quarterfinal on the ATP Tour.

The 185th-ranked Uchiyama knocked out the No. 14 Briton by hitting 15 aces against Edmund’s seven and saving all three of the break points he faced.

“I’m much more happy that I beat my opponent today than reached the quarterfinals,” Uchiyama said.

The 26-year-old Uchiyama will face France’s Jeremy Chardy for a semifinal spot. Defending champion Nick Kyrgios lost to Chardy 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-3.

Andy Murray lost his second-round match less than an hour after Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament on Wednesday.

Both players arrived in Australia after long injury breaks, and neither had played a competitive match since September.

At least Murray completed two matches. Playing on a protected ranking after an injury-interrupted 18 months, he beat James Duckworth before losing to fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2. There were signs in both matches that he is still bothered by the hip problem that has derailed his last two seasons.

Murray, a three-time major champion, recovered a service break in the first set and was in the match at 5-5 until Medvedev won six straight games.

The second-ranked Nadal had a first-round bye but withdrew on the eve of his scheduled second-round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after having an MRI on a muscle strain in his left thigh.

On Thursday, Naomi Osaka responded to some courtside coaching advice in the most emphatic way, conceding just five points in the second set on her way to a 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 win over eighth-seeded Anastasija Sevastova in quarterfinal action.

The U.S. Open champion was clearly under pressure in the first set, when she made 15 unforced errors and had fewer winners than Sevatsova, who broke her serve twice.

After Sevatsova clinched the first set with a backhand drop shot from the baseline, a disconsolate-looking Osaka went to a courtside chair at the changeover.

Whatever her coach Sascha Bajin told her during an animated courtside conference worked.

She finished with 11 aces to four, converted all four of her break-point chances in the second and third sets and appeared far more confident in her own game.

Osaka didn’t go into details in an on-court interview about what Bajin told her, but conceded it sharpened her focus.

“I mean, I was just trying to stay calm,” Osaka said. “Was trying to tell myself, ‘she’s one of the best players in the world. I just have to stay in there, and hopefully I’ll get a chance.’ I did, so I just kept trying to roll with it.”