Tennis: Djokovic survives scare; Serena strolls at Cincinnati

Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns a backhand to David Goffin of Belarus at the Western & Southern Open on Aug 18, 2015, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns a backhand to David Goffin of Belarus at the Western & Southern Open on Aug 18, 2015, in Cincinnati, Ohio. PHOTO: AFP

CINCINNATI (AFP) - Novak Djokovic survived a scare in the pursuit of a first career title at the ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters, with the top seed holding off David Goffin 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 on Thursday for a quarter-final place.

Djokovic, aiming to become the first man to win all eight Masters 1000 events, nearly found himself on the sidelines as his 13th-seeded Belgian opponent won the second set and went two breaks up in the decider.

But the experienced Djokovic pulled back from the brink, levelling at 3-3 after destroying a racquet along the way, and ran out the winner after a tense one and three-quarter hours. Djokovic stayed alive despite seven double-faults and five breaks of his serve.

"It was a solid first set, but whatever happened in the next 45 minutes I don't want to remember it," said Djokovic,who admitted he had struggled to adjust to the conditions. "Luckily for me I managed to bounce back, dig myself out of this hole I was in. Very swirly on the court. Not easy to serve or easy to control the ball, it flies through the air very quickly."

The world No. 1 will face Stan Wawrinka in the next round after the Swiss fifth seed prevailed in a marathon battle with big-serving Ivo Karlovic to win 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5) after more than two and a half hours.

"I'm really happy to get the win, you know what to expect from him," said Wawrinka, who saw 35 aces from Karlovic fly past him. "You need to stay calm and aggressive. "I'm happy with the way I stayed positive with body language, and always made him play one more ball. You must accept that he will have a lot of aces. I'm happy to get through."

Sixth seed Tomas Berdych crushed Spain's Tommy Robredo 6-0, 6-1; Alexandr Dolgopolov beat Pole Jerzy Janowicz 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Richard Gasquet knocked out US open winner Marin Cilic, the seventh seed, on the cusp of a Grand Slam title defence, leaving the Croatian hurting after a 7-5, 6-3 loss.

Women's holder Serena Williams dispatched Karin Knapp 6-0, 6-2, while sixth seed Ana Ivanovic, losing finalist to Williams a year ago, overhauled Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.

"Everyone enjoys easier matches," Williams said after her 54-minute stroll. "I think testing is also really important, but at the end of the day if you could have only easy matches for the whole tournament I don't think anyone would object to that."

Williams and Ivanovic will next play a re-run of their final from 12 months ago.

"There is not much secret there, she's been playing really well," said Ivanovic. "It will be very important to play well and to put pressure on her and try to also challenge myself and see where I'm at."

French Open finalist Lucie Safarova advanced to the quarter-finals when injured opponent Belinda Bencic, who beat Williams en route to victory in Toronto at the weekend, retired hurt after losing the first set 6-2. Elsewhere, Jelena Jankovic punished eighth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka had to stop with leg pain after being taped at the end of the first set, handing a 1-6, 3-0 win to Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic beat eighth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. Bencic later explained she retired with a muscle problem from so much recent tennis.

"I don't think it's like very serious, I just wasn't 100 percent today," she said. "To beat Lucie or even compete against her, you need to be 100 percent."