Maria Sharapova moved into the Brisbane International semifinals with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Carla Suarez Navarro on Thursday, weathering a challenging opening few games before taking the momentum away from her Spanish rival.
Top-seeded Sharapova dropped her opening service game and then needed eight breakpoints before converting for a 2-1 lead. From there, it was straight-forward progress.
''I lost to her last year. We went back and forth with our victories in 2014, so I'm always a little bit aware of girls that I lose to,'' Sharapova said. ''Maybe made a little bit too many unforced errors in the beginning, but then got a good rhythm and finished strong.''
No., 2-ranked Sharapova has dropped just five games across her opening two matches of the season and next faces Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, who came from a set and a break down to beat third-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Third-seeded Milos Raonic fired 17 aces and didn't face a break point in a 6-3, 6-4 win over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan to set up a quarterfinal against Australia's Sam Groth, who beat Lukasz Kubot of Poland 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6, (3).
''Finished last year and we definitely thought I could do a lot better with my serve, so we spent a lot of time this off season on that and I'm happy that it's going well,'' Raonic said.
The 24-year-old Canadian said he's coming off his best off-season ever, and is ready to make his breakthrough at the Grand Slam events.
''That's the biggest goal I've set for myself, is to do much better in specifically one major,'' said Raonic, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals and French Open quarterfinals last year. ''I've been in a semifinal now, but I can do much better.''
His Canadian compatriots had another win at the Hopman Cup in Perth, where Eugenie Bouchard beat Italy's Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-4 and Vasek Pospisil beat Fabio Fognini 6-0, 6-3. Canada remained in contention for a spot in the final of the mixed teams event, depending on the outcome of the night matches between the U.S. and Czech Republic.
At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki beat Germany's Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-4 and third-seeded Venus Williams, a finalist here in 2014, had a 6-2, 6-4 win over Elena Vesnina to reach the semifinals.
No. 8-ranked Wozniacki showed anger when she failed to put away crucial points, and gave up early service breaks in both sets before beating the 75th-ranked Goerges in 1 hour, 27 minutes.
''She has always been a tricky opponent for me,'' Wozniacki said. ''She serves really big, she has big shots. I tried to run every ball down ... at times I didn't feel very comfortable, I just fought to the end.''
Wozniacki's semifinal opponent will be fourth-seeded Barbora Zhalavova Strycova of the Czech Republic, a 6-4, 7-5 winner over seventh-seeded Coco Vandeweghe of the United States.
Williams, who has been troubled by a cold this week, broke Vesnina's serve twice to take the first set in a half hour.
The pair traded breaks in the second before Williams went on a roll, closing on her second match point on Vesnina's serve.
''Whenever I'm pushed I feel like I get this tiger in me that says 'Alright, it's time to go,''' Williams said. ''Sometimes it's hard to keep the focus when you're winning but whenever my opponents start to play better I feel like it raises my game.''
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