His best Grand Slam result came at Melbourne Park last year, and Japan’s number one player Kei Nishikori again appears to be warming to the task at Australian Open 2013.
The 16th seed, who broke through to make the quarterfinals at last year’s event, overcame a slightly sluggish start to steam home with a straight sets 7-6(3) 6-2 6-3 victory Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy on Friday afternoon.
The 23-year-old took some time to find his energy on court, but in blustery conditions finished with the wind in his sails.
“To play today wasn’t easy ... (there was) a lot of wind but in the important games I served well, so that helps a lot,” Nishikori said.
Perhaps suffering the aftermath of a marathon five-set triumph over countryman Mikhail Youzhny on Wednesday, Donskoy seemed reluctant to engage in longer rallies against the nimble Nishikori.
Regularly guilty of attempting to hit the big shot too early in the rally, the young Russian committed 37 unforced errors in the two hour and three minute encounter.
And, with a total of 29 winners coming from the Nishikori racquet, the Japanese held the on-court initiative for the majority of the match.
Although neither player could crack the other’s serve in the opening set, Nishikori stepped up when it counted in the deciding tiebreak.
He continued to penetrate from the baseline in the early stages of the second, racing to a 3-0 lead before claiming a double-break and the set 6-2.
Nishikori again broke serve in the early stages of the third, but Donskoy rallied. He upped the power from the baseline, claiming the break back in a marathon fifth game before levelling at 3-all. But the Russian’s resurgence was short-lived, with a dogged Nishikori reeling off the final three games of the match.
With the victory, the Japanese set up a meeting with fourth seed David Ferrer or Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, who play later on Friday night.
“Both will be tough opponents. Ferrer is playing well, he’s always tough to play, he gets every ball. And Marcos is also playing well. We were in the same tournament in Brisbane … he beat my friend two days ago,” Nishikori said, making reference to compatriot Tatsuma Ito, who lost to Baghdatis in four sets in the second round.
The Shimane-born Nishikori is one of three Japanese players still alive at Australian Open 2013, with the ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm and 22-year-old Ayumi Morita set to play their respective third round women’s singles matches on Saturday.