Andy Murray reached his third successive Australian Open semi-final today after easing past the challenge of Kei Nishikori.
The world number four 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% of first serves into play – but, that aside, there was little room for improvement as he moved into a last-four clash with either Novak Djokovic or David Ferrer.
“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 here 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 from Shimane had spent four hours more on court than Murray in reaching this stage and it showed.
It may have been muscle stiffness or stagefright 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 the pressure and his opponent buckled.
From two sets down and given his physical condition, a Nishikori comeback was extremely unlikely.
And the feeling it was beyond him grew when Murray swiftly established a 5-1 lead with Nishikori’s serve again lacking the potency required at this level.
And he experienced few problems in serving it out as Murray’s bid for a maiden grand slam crown remained on track.