The world number 46 Yuichi Sugita sealed his place in a career-first Masters 1000 quarterfinal with a grueling 6-7(0), 6-3, 6-3 victory over the Russian Karen Khachanov at the Western and Southern Open. Sugita looked impressive throughout the two-hour contest on Stadium 3, rallying from a set down after a mightily disappointing tiebreak.
His reward is a last eight showdown with the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who ousted Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets on Center Court. The pair had never previously met before stepping onto court to commence proceedings for the day in Cincinnati and that much was evident during the opening exchanges.
Sugita immediately broke for a 1-0 lead after Khachanov sent a backhand long before the Russian restored parity straight away, squandering one break point before converting another with a rasping drive off his forehand wing.
Both players were beginning to find their groove and the Russian was being bailed out by his strong serve whenever Sugita decided to press.
The Japanese found himself with a break opportunity in the seventh game and was in control of the rally before Khachanov turned defense into offense with immense power from the back of the court.
Sugita was exhibiting great court coverage and held for 5-5 before the opening set spiced up. A double-fault from Khachanov fashioned three break points for the 28-year-old but the Russian was in no mood to let the opener slip away from him. Five straight points followed and after wasting a pair of set points on Sugita’s deal a tie-break would have to separate the duo.
To describe it as an anti-climax would be an injustice as Khachanov raced out to a 6-0 lead before the changeover and closed it out with immense conviction. Riding the crest of a wave the Russian was quickly brought back down the life when Sugita broke for a 2-0 lead to open set two.
The unforced errors were beginning to rack up while Sugita, although hardly explosive, was beginning to dictate rallies with his forehand and marginalizing the Russian’s biggest weapon: the forehand.
Khachanov made a fist of it but Sugita held him at arm's length before leveling the match after a 31-minute stanza.
The decider began in eerily similar fashion to the previous set for Khachanov as he coughed up three break points on his opening service game. This time his serve failed to come to his aid and he found himself with a mountain to climb.
He finally held in the third game but only after an exhaustive few rallies and Sugita had more opportunities to solidify his advantage in the fifth game.
He made an exquisite backhand return down the line but Khachanov fought back, salvaging two break points to remain in contention. Yet Sugita never blinked and forced his opponent to serve to stay in the match.
And Khachanov could not cling on, parting with two match points before Sugita concluded with an emphatic forecourt smash.