Milos Raonic, the defending champions and No 1 seed, cruised into the quarter-finals of the Brisbane International with a regulation 6-3, 6-2 win over Argentine Diego Schwartzman on Thursday.
Raonic, who beat Roger Federer to win the 2016 Brisbane title, will now take on Rafael Nadal for a place in the semi-finals after the Spaniard crushed Germany’s Mischa Zverev 6-1, 6-1.
Nadal wasted no time in his 55 minute demolition of Zverev to the delight of the packed crowd in Pat Rafter Arena.
The 14-time grand slam winner gave Zverev no chance, blasting 30 winners across the two sets and making only seven unforced errors.
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Nadal was troubled by illness and injury in 2016 and said he was thrilled to be back on court fully fit.
"After injuries and hard times it's so special to be back on court," said Nadal, who concluded his prolonged pre-season by winning the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on New Year's Eve. Indeed, Nadal beat Raonic in the semi-finals of the Abu Dhabi event 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
“Tomorrow (against Raonic) it’s going to be a very hard match.”
Fourth seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem saw off huge serving Australian Sam Groth 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.
Thiem will play Bulgaria’s seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals following Dimitrov’s 6-2, 6-4 win over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut.
Dimitrov broke Mahut twice in the first set and once in the second to make the final eight in Brisbane for the second year in a row.
In the women’s event, Angelique Kerber and Dominika Cibulkova were both bundled out in the quarter-finals of the season-opening tournament.
World No 1 Kerber made 48 unforced errors, including five double faults, as she went down to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, while Frenchwoman Alize Cornet eliminated Cibulkova 6-3, 7-5.
Nick Kyrgios played down concerns over a worsening knee injury less than two weeks before the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne.
Two days after the world No 13 dismissed talk of lingering problems with his left leg, he laboured through a dismal loss to Jack Sock in the tie between Australia and the United States.
Kyrgios was beaten 6-2, 6-2 in under an hour in a performance which did not augur well for the Australian Open, starting a week from Monday.
In his first ATP tournament since serving a ban for tanking at the Shanghai Masters in October, Kyrgios served up another listless performance, barely moving around the court.
“It is not terrible but it is not great... just the start of some boney stuff in my knee,” he said.
“Obviously it was hindering me a little bit out there but I didn’t want to do anything to make it worse.”
With Australia forfeiting the doubles, the United States beat the defending champions 2-1, although Daria Gavrilova beat Coco Vandeweghe, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
The Americans were already through to the final and will be hoping to give the US a record seventh title.
Sock and Vandeweghe will face either the Swiss pairing of Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic or the French combination of Richard Gasquet and Kristina Mladenovic.
The French and Swiss face off on Friday for the other spot in the final.
The top two players in the world remained on course for a final showdown after both successfully negotiated their respective quarter-finals in Doha.
Novak Djokovic defeated veteran Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-3 in testing, blustery conditions to set up a semi-final against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.
Djokovic, the defending champion in Doha, dominated throughout the 91-minute match.
Djokovic won last year’s title without dropping a set, and he is yet to do so this year.
He is also on course to meet the man who took away his world No 1 spot at the end of last season, Andy Murray in Saturday’s final.
Murray was tested significantly more than Djokovic in his 7-6, 7-5 defeat of Spain’s Nicolas Almagro.
Earlier, Verdasco won through easily 6-2, 7-5, against another veteran, Ivo Karlovic.
The semi-final line-up will be completed on Thursday when Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the No 3 and No 5 seeds in Doha, face off.
* Agence France-Presse
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