ANDY MURRAY reached his third successive Australian Open semi-final today after easing past the challenge of Kei Nishikori and will now face defending champion Novak Djokovic, who overcame David Ferrer in straight sets, in the semi-finals.
The world No. 4 was rarely troubled by the Japanese, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in two hours and 12 minutes, as he maintained his smooth progress through the draw in Melbourne. Murray will have better days on serve – he got just 44 per cent of first serves into play – but, that aside, there was little room for improvement.“It was a good match, a lot of fun points, most of them he was winning so I was trying to keep them as short as possible,” said Murray. “But I need to serve better, I didn’t serve particularly well but the returning was good, so that was a positive. My game has been getting better each match and I am moving better and I am going to be fresh going into the weekend.”
Nishikori, the first player from Japan to reach the last eight in Melbourne in 80 years, showed glimpses of his potential but, like Murray’s previous opponent Mikhail Kukushkin, seemed fatigued by his efforts in previous rounds.
The 22-year-old had spent four hours more on court than Murray in reaching this stage and it showed.
It may have been muscle stiffness or stage-fright which contributed to his slow start, Murray breaking for a 2-0 lead with a sliced backhand up the line after an energy-sapping 43-stroke rally.
He threatened an immediate riposte after a series of unforced errors from Murray but some lazy footwork saw Nishikori’s chance evaporate.
Murray wasted two more break points to go 4-0 up with Nishikori finally getting on the board and that seemed to boost his confidence as the underdog started the fifth game with a wonderful “tweener” lob which paved the way for a winning forehand.
Murray won the game for 4-1, though, and then threatened again, setting up three break points before Nishikori held.
Both players were struggling on serve and Murray fell 0-40 down in the next game, but again the Japanese failed to convert as the fourth seed averted the danger. Nishikori struggled to another unconvincing hold before Murray served out the set.
The pattern of the match continued at the start of the second with the players trading breaks, although Nishikori had to rely on a fortuitous net cord on game point.
Murray maintained the pressure, though, by winning the next two games and he also had a point for 4-1 as the Japanese, despite holding on, started to look like he was feeling the pace.
The next three games remained on serve with Murray dictating the majority of points and certainly looking the fresher.
Nishikori was made to serve to stay in the set at 3-5 but he failed to do so as Murray applied pressure and his opponent buckled. From two sets down and given his physical condition, a Nishikori comeback was extremely unlikely.
The feeling it was beyond the Japanese grew when Murray swiftly established a 5-1 lead with Nishikori’s serve again lacking the potency required at this level, Murray experienced few problems in serving it out as his bid for a maiden grand slam crown remained on track.
In the women’s quarter-finals, Maria Sharapova, pictured below, got the better of Russian compatriot Ekaterina Makarova today to advance to a semi-final meeting with Petra Kvitova.
In a match of hard-hitting baseline rallies, fourth seed Sharapova possessed the greater accuracy, particularly at the key moments, to move through 6-2, 6-3.
Makarova, the world No. 56 and appearing in her first grand slam quarter-final, acquitted herself well but was not able to make enough headway on the Sharapova serve.
She started nervously, having to save three break points in her opening service game, but when Sharapova threatened again the 2008 champion in Melbourne made no mistake with a blistering forehand winner.
The forehand was prominent once more when Sharapova broke at 5-2 to claim the opening set, a drilled return cross court giving Makarova no chance.
Makarova started the second set strongly, breaking for a 2-1 lead but Sharapova hit back straightaway and then ran through the next three games to take the match away from the 23-year-old.
Makarova made her serve it out after Sharapova squandered a straightforward opportunity on match-point, netting a mid-court backhand, but she made no mistake to give herself the chance to avenge her loss to Kvitova in the Wimbledon final last July.
Earlier, Kvitova overcame a mid-match slump to beat Sara Errani 6-4, 6-4.
With her big-hitting game, the match was always going to be played on Kvitova’s terms against the smaller Italian.
So it proved as the rallies were won or lost by the Czech with Errani simply trying to make it as difficult as possible for her opponent.
The first set was a gruelling affair, with neither player able to hold their serve easily with breaks aplenty. Kvitova, however, was the more solid, and edged it after 53 minutes.
Errani forced Kvitova into more errors in the second set but could not hit winners herself, allowing the Czech to regroup and take the match. “I expected it to be tough,” said Kvitova. “She played very well today and also over the past few days.”