Del Potro to face Czech hero in Sydney quarters
Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina hits a return during his singles match against Nicolas Mahut of France at the Sydney International tennis tournament on January 8, 2014
The Argentine, playing his first match of the year, rallied from a set down to beat Frenchman Mahut 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in his tournament opener after receiving a first-round bye.
World number five Del Potro will play Stepanek on Thursday for a place in the semi-finals after Stepanek defeated Spaniard Albert Ramos 6-2, 7-6 (7/5).
"For my first match in two months it was okay," Del Potro said. "The court and the balls are really fast and it's tough to play long rallies.
"Mahut serves really well and he played a lot of slices and volleys, so it was tough to feel the ball on the baseline.
"In the end I broke his serve in the third set, only once, and that was enough to close the match."
Del Potro said Stepanek will be a tough opponent early in the season.
"They won the Davis Cup, so he must feel confident playing on this surface. He has experience. We play many times. Every match was close," he said.
"I need to improve my game a little bit from the start of the match and then see what happens."
Stepanek became the first player to win decisive fifth rubbers in consecutive Davis Cup finals, against Serbia in Belgrade in November.
Del Potro is seeded to meet former champion Dmitry Tursunov in the last four after the Russian fourth seed eliminated Czech Lukas Rosol 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in his second-round match on Wednesday.
Tursunov has a last eight encounter with Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, who ousted seventh seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-3, 6-4.
Bernard Tomic kept his Sydney title defence on track with a three-set victory over Slovenian qualifier Blaz Kavcic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Tomic's controversial father John, who was banned from gaining accreditation to ATP events for 12 months, was spotted in the stands with tournament organisers allowing him to attend as a spectator.
"It was Kavcic's third or fourth match. He qualified and won against Jarkko Nieminen, who was a winner here in the past," Tomic said.
"I knew his scores were solid and it was going to be a tough match. Would have loved to finish it off in two sets, but I'm happy I won in the end."
Tomic will face Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarters after the Ukrainian knocked out Polish second seed Jerzy Janowicz 6-2, 6-2.
Australian wildcard Marinko Matosevic upset Italian third seed Andreas Seppi, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the last eight.
Matosevic, the world No.56, had never won a main-draw match in Australia before this new season but is now through to back-to-back quarter-finals after also reaching the last eight at last week's Brisbane International.
Matosevic, 28, dominated Seppi from the outset and was impressive on serve, going 10 service games without facing a break point.
"I do it regularly overseas (reach quarters), but to do it in Australia feels good. And to beat someone like Andreas who is 20 in the world, he's a quality player," Matosevic said.
Matosevic, who lost to Roger Federer in Brisbane, will next face Ukraine qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky, who ousted French sixth seed Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday.
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