Melbourne: Japan's Kei Nishikori reached the Australian Open fourth round with a convincing, straight-sets win over Lukas Lacko on Friday.
The fifth seed made it to the last 16 for the sixth straight year with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over the Slovak qualifier in two hours, 11 minutes.
Nishikori will next face his first big challenge against either 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer or big-serving Czech 10th seed Tomas Berdych.
The Japanese is looking to improve on his three quarter-final appearances at the Australian Open, losing to Andy Murray in 2012, Stan Wawrinka in 2015 and Novak Djokovic last year.
"There were some little tough moments, but I stayed tough in the third set," Nishikori said.
Nishikori broke the 121st-ranked Lacko's serve four times and gave up his own service only once.
"I did well with my service games and came up with some important first serves on the big points," he said.
"I am feeling well physically and mentally and I've been playing well in my three matches in Melbourne."
Nishikori got the early advantage with a service break in the seventh game after Lacko overhit a forehand.
The Japanese star got a double break to lead 3-0 and Lacko got one break back to trail 3-5 before Nishikori served out for a two sets to love advantage.
Nishikori peeled off a ripping forehand return winner to grab an early break in the final set to hit the front and stay there.
He hit 46 winners, 27 of them on his forehand, and dominated the rallies.
Nishikori became the first Asian man to contest a Grand Slam final when he lost to Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open after defeating three top-10 players –- Milos Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic along the way.
Venus hungry for more
Venus Williams ended Chinese hopes at the Australian Open on Friday, swatting aside Duan Yingying to make the fourth round for a 10th time -- and said she was still hungry for more.
The 13th seed was in a different league, spanking Duan 6-1, 6-0 on Margaret Court Arena and showing no signs of the elbow injury that forced her out of the doubles with sister Serena.
She will next play German qualifier Mona Barthel, who beat Australian hope Ashleigh Barty.
If she comes through that encounter, a potential quarter-final with fellow veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova looms.
"Oh, yay! It's good. It's never enough," said Williams on still making her mark at Grand Slams.
"I've been in the fourth round before. I've tasted it before and it's always a great feeling because it means, hey, I have an opportunity for the quarter-finals. That's what I'm going to go for."
The American, the oldest player in the women's draw and playing her 17th Australian Open, said tennis had given her "a beautiful life". But she isn't finished yet.
"Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to executing my game," she said of her next match.
"That's all that matters at this point, is to continue to elevate myself. As the rounds continue, I need to raise my level. This is my primary focus, and nothing else."
Remarkably Duan, ranked 87, admitted ahead of the match that she'd never seen Williams play, and would be relying heavily on her coach's guidance.
This is despite the seven-time Grand Slam winner being one of the game's most prominent players over the past two decades.
She paid dearly against Williams who remains a force, making the fourth round or better at three of the four Grand Slams last year.
Williams, 36, exploited Duan's weak serve and apparent nerves, racing to a quick break in the opening set, with no way back for the Chinese star. She won a consolation game but that was as good as it got.
Duan, normally an aggressive and powerful player, was never able to get into her groove as Williams dictated the points, pushing her around the court.
Williams didn't give an inch, breaking Duan first service game in the second set and romping to an easy victory.
Despite the loss, it was an encouraging tournament for China's number five, who reached a Grand Slam third round for the first time and was her country's last player standing.
"This is her first time in the third round. It's a lot of pressure," Williams said.
"Having the opportunity to play this third round, play against a player of my experience, is going to be a huge stepping stone for her. She's got talent. It's perfect for women's tennis."
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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2017 17:23:30 IST