TORONTO: Novak Djokovic stopped tennis showman Radek Stepanek with a 6-2, 6-4 victory to march into the quarter-finals of the Toronto Masters.
The top seed and three-time Canadian titleholder won in a light-hearted match-up with one of the characters of the ATP Tour as the 37-year-old Stepanek kept the crowd entertained with extravagant shot-making.
Several times, the Czech took victory laps around the court after winning shots, often to the delight of Djokovic, who now stands an overwhelming 12-1 in the series with his frequent training partner.
“It’s quite enjoyable to play Radek, he’s such an entertainer,” Djokovic said. “It’s not easy to play someone you know so well and respect a lot.
“We are all grateful to him for staying in the sport for such a long time.”
Djokovic took the opening set but went down a break in the second, earning it back as he won a nine-minute fourth game for 2-2.
From that point on, he did not drop a point on serve.
“I just wanted to focus on each point and not allow him to go up a break again. There were a lot of close games, it could have gone a different way in the second set.
“I was fortunate to stay tough. Conditions here are very quick, It’s not easy to break serve, plus Radek takes away a lot of your time with his angled returns.”
Djokovic Friday faces Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych, who got past Ryan Harrison of the US 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 6-4.
Second seed Stan Wawrinka matched his best career result at the event with a 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 defeat of American Jack Sock.
It was the first time in five years that the double Grand Slam champion Swiss had reached the last eight in Canada; he went out in an opening match a year ago to Nick Kyrgios and got to the third round in 2014.
The 31-year-old, who will depart for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as soon as his run in Canada is complete, saved all three break points he faced against the 16th-seeded Sock.
The first set provided a challenge, with Wawrinka winning it in a decider to seize the match momentum.
“You need to be careful in tiebreaks, and really focus,” said Wawrinka. “I feel positive now after this win – let’s see what happens.”
Wawrinka next plays South African Kevin Anderson, who overhauled 12th seed Bernard Tomic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours, firing 26 aces and saving eight of nine break points.
“I’ve lost many times (four) against him (Anderson). I lost two years ago when I played him here. It’s always been difficult to beat him, but hopefully I can do that tomorrow,” Wawrinka said.
Japan’s third seed Kei Nishikori reached the quarters without the loss of a set as an injury from Wimbledon fades away.
Asia’s top player advanced over Rajeev Ram 6-3, 6-4.
“I think it’s good, not maybe 100 per cent yet but feeling pretty strong,” he said of a rib problem.
Washington champion Gael Monfils won his eighth match in a row with the tenth seed advancing over number seven David Goffin, 7-6 (7/5), 2-6, 6-4 in a debut meeting.
He now takes on fourth seed Milos Raonic, a confident winner over Jared Donaldson 6-2, 6-3.
“I’m doing things well, taking care of my own things, creating some opportunities,” the Canadian said.
Monfils is fresh from his first ATP title in more than two years and has carried his momentum into a seventh quarter-final of the season.
“I feel tired because we played more than two hours,” said the 29-year-old French winner. “It was a physical match, I had to run a lot.