Madrid: Rafael Nadal showed no signs of his recent slump in form 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.
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.
Rafael Nadal. Pic/ AFP
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 Stanislas Wawrinka in the last-16 7-5 (7/5), 3-6, 6-3 just as he did at the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
"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. "Hopefully tomorrow I will be ready to compete well against him." Thomas Berdych continued his impressive start to the clay court season as he also marched into the quarter-finals with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
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.
"Just because I'm doing good doesn't mean my preparation was better. 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 either fourth seed Petra Kvitova or Irina-Camelia Begu in Saturday's semi-finals. - 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 a semi-final meeting with either Lucie Safarova or 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 the four-time Grand Slam champion. "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.
"These last couple of matches have been tough and I've gotten through, which I feel is good for me. I want to go as far as I can. Every match I can play on clay before the Grand Slam rolls around is really important."