Tennis: Clinical Nishikori off to flier at Japan Open

A file photo taken on Sept 22, 2018, shows Kei Nishikori returning a ball to Matthias Bachinger (not pictured) during their ATP Moselle semi-finals match in Metz, France.
A file photo taken on Sept 22, 2018, shows Kei Nishikori returning a ball to Matthias Bachinger (not pictured) during their ATP Moselle semi-finals match in Metz, France.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Local hero Kei Nishikori began his quest for a third Japan Open tennis title by thrashing countryman Yuichi Sugita 6-4, 6-1 to reach the last 16 on Monday (Oct 1).

The third seed failed to hit the heights that took him to the US Open semi-finals last month but still dominated his Davis Cup teammate, completing a one-sided victory with a fizzing backhand down the line after 81 minutes.

"I hoped I wouldn't have to play a Japanese player," said Nishikori, who last faced Sugita when they were juniors.

"It's a relief to win. It took me a while to get into it," added the world No. 12, who won the last of his 11 career titles in Memphis two years ago.

"I made a few too many mistakes at the start. But I tweaked what I needed to and enjoyed the second set a bit more. Hopefully I can go deep into the tournament.

"Of course, the aim is to try to win it."

Earlier, three-time Tokyo finalist Milos Raonic crushed last year's runner-up Adrian Mannarino, the sixth seed taking a little over an hour to beat the Frenchman 6-3, 6-4.

The big-hitting Canadian, who has slipped from world No. 3 to 20th currently after a poor run of form, fired 17 aces in a dominant display.

His countryman Denis Shapovalov, who last year made unwanted headlines after smashing a ball at an umpire and fracturing his eye socket in a Davis Cup tie, bundled out seventh seed Chung Hyeon of South Korea 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Elsewhere, France's Benoit Paire beat Chile's Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) while Japanese qualifier Yosuke Watanuki upset Dutchman Robin Haase 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-1.

World No. 6 Marin Cilic heads the field at the Tokyo tournament, whose list of previous winners include Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Ken Rosewall.