KUALA LUMPUR: Kei Nishikori eased into the semifinals of the Malaysian Open by sinking Australia’s Marinko Matosevic 6-3, 6-0 on Friday without moving past first gear.
Japan’s rising tennis star was in his element in the first set, twice breaking Matosevic in the fifth and ninth game, firing four aces in the process to seal a 6-3 win.
In the second, the 24-year-old crushed the 78th ranked Matosevic in just under 30-minutes with some captivating play, including his ferocious forehand returns -– much to the delight of the 2,000-strong crowd gathered at the Putra Stadium in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
Even Nishikori appeared surprised with the easy victory.
“I was expecting a tough match actually. He beat Nick (Kyrgios of Australia) and Go (Soeda of Japan) and was playing really well,” he said.
“But I have been playing well too, and he was struggling in the second set so I tried to raise my game level and finish the game early.”
“I am trying to play an aggressive game, especially on this court because the ball movement is slow, so I try to take the returns as early as possible.”
The world’s eighth ranked player has looked at ease in this tournament, despite earlier saying he was drained after his recent defeat in the US Open.
His run in that tournament left victims including world number one Novak Djokovic in his wake as he became the first Asian man to make a Grand Slam singles final.
The top seed said he was expecting a tougher battle Saturday against Jarkko Nieminen.
The Finn, who ranks 57th in the world, beat seventh seeded Pablo Andujar 6-3, 6-4. The Spaniard ranks 45th.
“He’s definitely a tough player. He has very good groundstrokes and has been playing really well. I don’t think I’ve played him before, so I am expecting it to be close tomorrow,” Nishikori said.
The understudy of American former tennis star-turned-coach Michael Chang said he felt encouraged by the support from locals and Japanese alike.
“Even here there is a lot of support from the fans and some Japanese who have come to support (me) so it’s great for me,” he said.
Also on Friday, second seed Ernests Gulbis moved on to the semifinals after a straightforward 6-3, 7-5 victory over Germany’s Benjamin Becker.
The Latvian, who cut an edgy figure in his three-set victory over Philipp Petzschner in the second round, will face a litmus test against Julien Benneteau.
The French fourth seed beat Uruguay’s fifth seeded Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4 in a 139-minute battle, sharpening his assault on a first Malaysian Open title after having finished as runner-up in 2012 and 2013.