It promised to be an exciting battle between two supremely fit, speedy movers, one at the peak of his powers and the other on the rise.
But apart from a competitive third set lasting 53 minutes, it was somewhat of a fizzer, with No.4 seed David Ferrer dismissing 16th seed Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-1 6-4 to progress to his fifth consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal.
"Today I played very good, one of the best matches on my career in Australian Open. I'm very happy with my game," Ferrer said.
"The result, it was in three sets, but the game, it was very, very difficult to beat Nishikori."
Despite the one-sided scoreline, the match opened with remarkably high quality; the rallies long, intense and athletic from the get-go. Especially attractive were Nishikori’s net ventures, the Japanese player picking off a pair of technically perfect backhand volley winners to immediately put Ferrer under pressure on serve.
He didn’t break, but came close again in the third game, using his flashy groundstrokes to bring up two break points.
Yet Ferrer escaped, and there emerged the trend that was to characterise much of the first set – although games were close and points competitive, the No.4 seed proved rock solid when it mattered most.
After falling behind a break, Nishikori pressed in an attempt to hit through the Spaniard, but couldn’t execute. His 22nd error of the set – compared to just six from Ferrer – handed the world No.5 another service break, and the opening set.
In 22 minutes, Ferrer was up 5-0 in the second set, a combination of his own high level and Nishikori’s diminishing one.
The Japanese player, who arrived at Rod Laver Arena with heavy strapping on his left knee, needed it re-strapped during this period, perhaps an explanation for his slightly sluggish movement at the back of the court.
Yet he held to get on the board at 1-5 and moved ahead 0-40 in the seventh game, inspiring hope among the pro-Nishikori crowd of a potential comeback. Yet it didn’t come. Nishikori blew his ninth break point of the match to help the Spaniard level at deuce.
Two more errors followed, and Ferrer was suddenly up two sets to love.
The 16th seed flung his racquet in disgust as a forehand error gave Ferrer more break points to open the third set, and walked to his chair as yet another error handed the Spaniard a 1-0 lead.
But with the match quickly heading to a near-certain conclusion, Nishikori staged one final rally.
Clearly angered by his sub-par form, he channeled these emotions into his shots. And they came off. Now he was running the Spaniard ragged in scintillating rallies, and consistently hitting his spots. When he broke back and later moved ahead 4-3 – the first time he’d led in the match – the crowd had come to life.
The key game came at 4-4, a glorious 10-minute battle that extended to several deuces and produced some of the best rallies of the match. But, somewhat predictably, it was the Japanese 23-year-old who erred first, grabbing at his knee as Ferrer broke for the right to serve for the match.
The fourth seed made no mistake, serving it out to love to reach his third straight quarterfinal at Melbourne Park.
"I am trying to improve every year my game. I am trying to improve my serve. I am trying to play more aggressive with my shots. Is difficult for me now improve too much my game," Ferrer said.
"(But) I am 30 years old. I played a lot of years tennis. I am more quiet (calm) with myself, no? This is very important for to improve my game."