Sixth seed Cilic beat the Japanese superstar in last year's US Open final and the Croatian - who also reached the semi-finals in New York last month - showed enough against Johnson to suggest Nishikori will face a severe test on Friday. Johnson had no answer to the power and guile of the street-wise Cilic, who clinched the first set with a cleverly disguised chip-and-charge that forced his tormented opponent into a panicked forehand he got horribly wrong.
An exquisite lob earned Cilic a break at the start of the second and such was Johnson's frustration he slammed a ball out of the waterside arena to pick up a code violation. His mood darkened as Cilic caught fire, ending with a flurry of passings shots, capped by a thunderous forehand on match point to wrap up victory in just 73 minutes. "It will be very special to play Kei in Tokyo for the first time," said Cilic, who is chasing a first title of the year and the 14th of his career.
"We played a close match in Washington earlier this year and Kei won that one, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I just hope I can play as well as I did today." Kyrgios has been introduced by the local Japanese cable broadcaster showing the Japan Open this week as: "Genius? Or problem child?" But despite the controversy that follows the temperamental Aussie around the men's ATP Tour, he behaved impeccably against Bautista Agut, the highlight a between-the-legs half volley to secure a break at the start of the second set.
Kyrgios, fined recently for a sexual insult aimed at Stan Wawrinka's girlfriend during a match against the Swiss, closed out the match with a pummelling serve down the middle after just 56 minutes on court. "I don't want to get too far ahead of myself," said the Australian when asked about the possibility of capturing his first title. "Obviously you've got guys like Stan and Kei who have been in grand slam finals and can play unbelievable tennis.
"I feel like I'm one of the underdogs," added Kyrgios, who faces Frenchman Benoit Paire - 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 conqueror of Cyprus's Marcos Baghdatis - in the quarters. "But I definitely feel like I'm maturing. Whatever happens, happens." Top seed Wawrinka is not scheduled to face Kyrgios until the final in Tokyo in what would make for a spicy encounter. He and Nishikori both had the day off after booking their places in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. Wawrinka, the French Open champion, will play American Austin Krajicek in the last eight after he beat Portugal's Joao Sousa (POR) 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.