Rafael Nadal showed no signs of his recent slump as he eased past Italy’s Simone Bolelli 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open on Thursday.
Women’s top seed Serena Williams and defending champion Maria Sharapova also stayed on course for a potential meeting in the final as they progressed to the last four with wins over Carla Suarez Navarro and Caroline Wozniacki respectively.
There were also straight sets wins for Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori.
Nadal has yet to win a European clay court tournament this season after defeats to Novak Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Masters and Fabio Fognini at the Barcelona Open last month.
However, he remains the heavy favourite in the Spanish capital in the absence of world number one Djokovic and will continue his quest for a fifth Madrid title against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov on Friday.
Dimitrov disposed of Stan Wawrinka in the last-16, 7-5 (7/5), 3-6, 6-3 just as he did at Monte Carlo.
“Dimitrov is a very complete player, he is one of the best in the world,” said Nadal.
“He has already won three matches here, so he is at a good level again. He played very well against Wawrinka and (Fabio) Fognini.”
Murray and Nishikori stayed on course for a mouthwatering semi-final clash as they proved too good for Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Roberto Bautista Agut respectively.
It was Murray’s second victory of the day as he didn’t get off court until 3am local time in dismissing Philipp Kohlschreiber in the previous round.
But he enjoyed a far easier evening as he matched his best ever run on the clay in Madrid 6-2, 6-0 in little over an hour on court to set up a quarter-final clash with Milos Raonic, who beat Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 6-3.
Last year’s finalist Nishikori was equally impressive in seeing off 14th seed Bautista Agut 6-3, 6-3.
Next up for the Japanese is a quarter-final meeting with David Ferrer after he an all-Spanish battle by coming from a set down to beat Fernando Verdasco 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Tomas Berdych faces John Isner in the other quarter-final.
– Williams extends unbeaten run –
Williams extended her unbeaten record this season to 24-0 as she swept aside Spain’s Navarro 6-1, 6-3.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion had to save three match points in overcoming two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday, but had no such trouble as she maintained her record of never having dropped a set against Navarro in their six meetings.
Williams complained that she had been far from ready for the clay court swing when struggling to victory over Italy’s Sara Errani in Fed Cup action last month.
However, the world number one now believes that was the perfect preparation as she builds up for the French Open later this month.
“I definitely didn’t have an easy draw, and coming through so far has been really good.
“I didn’t have the greatest preparation that I would’ve liked to. I would’ve liked to spend so many more hours on the court just sliding and stuff.
“But I’m telling you, Fed Cup really helped me out. It helped propel me to the extra preparation that I needed.”
The 19-time Grand Slam champion will face fourth seed Petra Kvitova on Friday after the Wimbledon champion beat Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5, 6-3.
– Sharapova into semi-finals –
Sharapova also reached the last four for a third consecutive year with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Wozniacki.
The Russian showed no ill effects early on from her marathon win over Caroline Garcia on Wednesday as she raced through the first set.
Wozniacki battled back to take the second set, but unlike in their previous two meetings at the US Open and the end of season finals in Singapore, it was Sharapova who emerged victorious in the decider to set up an all-Russian semi-final with Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“I think this was an important match for me, and also an important match to see where my level was and how I can withstand that physicality of a match against her,” said Sharapova.
“It’s obviously a tournament I want to do well in. I feel like it’s almost the beginning of my clay court preparation towards the French Open.”
Kuznetsova edged past Lucie Safarova 5-7, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/3) in over three hours on court to make her first semi-final since last July in Washington.