Ruthless Nishikori Marches Into Quarters
Week Two at the Australian Open kicked off with a bang Sunday at Melbourne Park, as Kei Nishikori became the tournament's first quarter-finalist with a convincing 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
A blockbuster Top 10 battle saw the seventh seeded Japanese advance to the last eight for the second straight year and third overall. With the roof closed, Nishikori fired 31 winners and won 15 of 21 net points to dispatch the ninth seed and 2008 finalist. He extended his FedEx ATP Head2Head advantage over Tsonga to 5-2, exacting revenge after most recently falling in last year's Roland Garros quarter-finals in five sets.
"It's all good," said Nishikori. "I'm feeling very good. My body and also tennis is very good. I'm looking forward to play the next round. It's great to finish in straight sets always, especially as a Grand Slam is two weeks, so it's long time. It's great to finish quick.
"I'm surprised that I broke him early in every set. I was returning well today, so that makes it tough for him to have a good serve. It seems like he didn't have many first serves in. I think today I had very good tactics and I played very patient."
Video courtesy AusOpen.com
Nishikori got off to a flying start to open Round of 16 action on Hisense Arena. The Japanese turned in a dominant display in returning Tsonga's serve, breaking in two of the Frenchman's first three service games. A double fault gave Nishikori the first break for 2-1 and a second would come two games later, as he continued to attack his opponent's delivery with great efficiency. A rifled return winner clipped the back edge of the baseline for 0/30, leading to a double break advantage for the Japanese. His momentum was momentarily tempered, as Tsonga reeled off six straight points to grab a break back and consolidate for 4-5, but Nishikori would close out the opener after 40 minutes.
The World No. 7 continued to apply pressure on return in the second set, rallying from 40/15 in the third game to break again. Nishikori controlled the baseline with great depth and power as well, winning 11 of the first 16 points of nine shots or more. Tsonga would take a medical timeout for a back issue after conceding another break for 4-1 and would not recover. The Frenchman was pushed too far behind the baseline to make an impact in extended rallies, and Nishikori would claim seven of the last 11 games to seal his spot in the quarter-finals after two hours and two minutes. He has now won five of his past six matches against Top 10 players in a Grand Slam.
The 26 year old will next face either top seed Novak Djokovic or another Frenchman, Gilles Simon. He is the only Japanese man to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park in the Open Era, having previously advanced as far in 2012 & '15. In addition, his five Grand Slam quarter-finals are second to only Jiro Satoh (six) for the most reached by a Japanese man at a major.
Tsonga, meanwhile, was bidding to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the fifth time in nine trips. The runner-up to Djokovic in 2008, he remains one match win shy of 30 at the Australian Open, which is the most by a Frenchman in the Open Era.
"This time I made a few wrong choices at the start and he just played really well," said Tsonga. "Then I was not able to come back in the match. I think he was better than me over three sets."
Video courtesy AusOpen.com