Bernard Tomic will face Japanese star Kei Nishikori in the Brisbane International quarter-finals after scraping through with a second round victory over Czech veteran Radek Stepanek on Wednesday night.
The last remaining Australian hope at the tournament in either the men’s or women’s singles, Tomic recovered from some early struggles, a shaky second set and a nailbiting third to defeat Stepanek 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) in a match that went nearly two and a half hours.
Stepanek, who won the Brisbane event in 2009, might be 14 years his senior but proved a thorn in Tomic’s side all match and looked poised to defeat the Gold Coast product for the fourth time in as many years.
But a tiring Tomic fought back and, aided by some sloppy errors from his opponent in the third set tiebreaker, won seven of the last eight points to set up his clash with Nishikori, who breezed past Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-4 earlier on Wednesday.
Tomic and Nishikori met at the same stage of the tournament last year but the Queenslander was no match for the two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist, who won in straight sets.
However, the 23-year-old needs to defeat second seed Nishikori for the first time in his career to ensure the smoothest path possible at the Open.
Currently ranked No.18 in the world, Tomic is aiming for at least a semi-final appearance as he seeks a top 16 seeding in Melbourne, which would mean he wouldn’t have to play any of the top 10 until the fourth round.
But beating Nishikori will require a much higher level of performance from Tomic, who started slowly to trail 2-5 at one stage in the first set and was broken twice by Stepanek in the second.