PARIS — Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese man in more than 80 years to reach the quarter-finals at the French Open as he breezed past Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday.
In a nearly flawless performance that lasted less than two hours, Nishikori broke his opponent five times and hit 40 winners to follow in the footsteps of Jiro Satoh, who made it to the semifinals twice in Paris in 1931 and 1933.
After enjoying three days of rest, Nishikori was full of stamina on court Suzanne Lenglen and lost just six points on his serve in the opening set. The U.S. Open runner-up continued his demolition work as he raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set.
A brief change of momentum saw the 74th-ranked Gabashvili come back to 5-4 after Nishikori dropped his serve in the eighth game. That was the only scare for the fifth-seeded Japanese, who advanced from the third round without hitting a ball when his opponent pulled out of the tournament.
Gabashvili saved two match points in the seventh game before Nishikori sealed the match on his next service game to the delight of the fans waving Japanese flags.
Next up for Nishikori will either be No. 14 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or fourth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych.
In men’s doubles action, Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil and American partner Jack Sock beat France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 7-6, 7-6 to advance to the tournament’s fourth round. Toronto’s Daniel Nestor and India’s Leander Paes lost to Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-4.
In the women’s side of the draw, former champion Ana Ivanovic returned to the quarter-finals for the first time since her triumph at Roland Garros seven years ago after beating ninth-seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova 7-5, 3-6, 6-1.
Ivanovic will face 19th-seeded Elina Svitolina, who overcame strong resistance from local hope Alize Cornet to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a 6-2, 7-6 (9) win.
For the first time this year play was disrupted by rain, with both women’s matches suspended for 2 hours, 40 minutes before midday. Players had then to deal with gusts of wind after play resumed.
The seventh-seeded Ivanovic, who won the French Open the year after losing in the final, last made the quarter-finals of a major at the Australian Open in 2014.
“Amazing really. To be honest, coming in to the tournament I didn’t expect it at all,” Ivanovic said. “But I really worked hard for each match. I worked hard even before the tournament to reach the quarter-final again here. I’m very proud of the way I played in the third set.”
Cornet was off to a bad start in her fourth-round match against Svitolina on centre court, trailing 3-0 after dropping her serve twice when their match was suspended after 21 minutes. The rain gave her the chance to refocus in the locker room but she lost the first six points when play resumed.
In a match featuring 12 breaks of serves, Cornet saved five match points before a final backhand out of bounds gave Svitolina the win.
The 29th-seeded Frenchwoman lost her temper near the end, remonstrating with the umpire over a shot that was called out in the 11th game of the second set after Svitolina stopped the rally. Svitolina said afterward she thought “99 per cent the ball was out.”
Cornet complained to the umpire at the changeover, saying “you look in my eyes and you know it” was in. She also dared the umpire to “give me a warning after you stole me a point.”
The two remaining women’s fourth-round matches on Sunday’s schedule were postponed because of the rain delay, meaning defending champion Maria Sharapova will wait until Monday before playing 13th-seeded Lucie Safavrova. Tournament organizers also postponed the match between No. 21 Garbine Muguruza vs. No. 28 Flavia Pennetta.
Sunday’s showcase match on centre court pitted second-seeded Roger Federer against home favourite Gael Monfils.
Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press