SPORTS

Raonic handily beats Kukushkin, rolls into Brisbane quarter-finals

01/08/2015 09:59 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT
BRISBANE, Australia - Third-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic fired 17 aces and didn't face a break point as he advanced to the Brisbane International quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan on Thursday in his opening match of the year.

"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 from Thornhill, Ont., 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 quarter-finals 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 of Westmount, Que., beat Italy's Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-4 and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil beat Fabio Fognini 6-0, 6-3. Canada dropped the doubles match against the Italians, however, then were denied a spot in the final when the United States won all three games against the Czech Republic.

Maria Sharapova moved into the Brisbane semifinals with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Carla Suarez Navarro, 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.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki overcame occasional frustration with her own game as she beat Germany's Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-4 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."

Wozniack'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.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam held his cool to recover from a set and a break down and beat Australian wild-card entry John Millman 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The weather was reasonably mild for subtropical Brisbane, where Federer lost to Lleyton Hewitt in the final last year. It was the hot reception from the No. 153-ranked Millman that troubled him for a while.

"I'm sweating like crazy," Federer said. "Under a lot of pressure. I think I got quite lucky in the second set. He was playing great tennis."

It was slow start for the 33-year-old Swiss star, who had a first-round bye. He wasted four break-point chances in an opening game that lasted seven minutes before Millman held.

Federer was broken in the 10th game, saving three set points before hitting a swinging forehand volley too long to surrender the first set to Millman, who was getting raucous support from a parochial, hometown crowd.

The top-seeded Federer dropped serve to give Millman a 3-1 lead. But he broke back immediately, setting it up with classic one-handed backhand down the line, and saved three break points in the next game to keep it on serve.

That's when things started to go his way.

"First match of the season, you never know quite what to expect," said Federer, who walked on court with 996 career match wins on the ATP tour — 993 more than Millman. "Credit to him for pushing it."

Federer will face another Australian wild-card entry in the next round, after James Duckworth beat Jarkko Nieminen 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

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