Kei Nishikori squashes Benoit Paire to reach Tokyo quarters
Tokyo — Local hero Kei Nishikori put down a marker in his quest for a third Japan Open title as he outgunned France’s Benoit Paire on Wednesday to reach the last eight.
The third seed, who lifted the trophy in 2012 and 2014, completed a 6-3 7-5 victory despite late resistance from Paire to avenge a semifinal defeat inflicted by the hulking Frenchman in Tokyo three years ago.
Meanwhile, former champion Nick Kyrgios flickered into life just long enough to dispatch Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 7-5 7-6 (7/3) in the first round.
Nishikori won the first five games before Paire finally got on the scoreboard.
But after Nishikori snaffled the opening set Paire raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set before the Japanese No1 rattled off five straight games. A prickly Paire pulled off an outrageous between-the-legs volley and subsequently levelled with a backhand rocket as Nishikori shook his head in disbelief.
But the world No12 almost took Paire’s head off to break again for 6-5, further irritating the Frenchman, who flirted with a penalty point after kicking his racquet into his chair.
Nishikori, who won the last of his 11 career titles in Memphis two years ago, closed out the match with a ferocious cross-court forehand.
"I had a few dangerous moments, but I stuck to my game," said Nishikori. "It was important to dig in. I’m in the quarterfinals now and hopefully I can kick on from here."
Kyrgios appeared a little distracted at times, but the controversial Aussie became a different animal after Nishioka, who won his first ATP tour title at last week’s Shenzhen Open, forced a tiebreak in the second set.
Roused into action, Kyrgios unleashed monstrous shots to steam through the breaker.
The 23-year-old, who has complained that playing the late season tour in Asia made him feel depressed and lonely, fired 20 aces and sealed victory with a flamboyant backhand overhead after 73 minutes to book a place in the last 16.
Kyrgios has been fined for "tanking" matches in Shanghai in the past two years but captured one of his four career titles at the 2016 Japan Open. He faces eighth seed Richard Gasquet for a place in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson survived a scare against Australian Matthew Ebden, the second seed coming through 4-6 7-6 (7/1) to reach the last 16. The South African plays American Frances Tiafoe in the last 16.
Elsewhere, three-time Tokyo finalist Milos Raonic, the tournament’s sixth seed, overpowered Japanese qualifier Yosuke Watanuki 6-3 7-6 (7/2) to reach the quarterfinals.
Russian Daniil Medvedev awaits the Canadian after beating Slovakia’s Martin Klizan 6-4 6-3 while Australia’s Alex De Minaur beat France’s Gilles Simon 6-7 (1/7) 7-6 (7/5) 6-2 in first-round action.