Canada's Milos Raonic registered a career first Thursday.
The 20-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., recorded the first clay-court quarter-final berth of his ATP career, defeating Portugal's Joao Sousa 6-3, 6-3 in second-round play at the Estoril Open. Raonic needed 71 minutes to dispatch his 254th-ranked opponent, breaking his serve five times.
"I feel I'm making progress every week, I never expected it to go so well so quickly on clay so of course I'm very pleased," Raonic said. "I'm happy with how I'm executing.
"This has been a good week so far, but I'm not looking far ahead. I don't go through the draw, I just look at who I play next."
Raonic's game is coming along nicely with a major test looming next week on clay at the Madrid Masters and an event in Rome to follow. It's all leading up to the French Open, which starts May 22. Raonic is expected to garner a Grand Slam seeding after his quick rise to No. 27 in the world rankings.
"I handled myself well and kept in control," Raonic said of the match where his opponent was the clear crowd favourite. "I'm feeling better and better with each match and playing better each week."
On Friday, Raonic will face fourth-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon, who beat Argentina's Carlos Berlocq 6-2, 6-1. This will mark Raonic's first career meeting with Simon, who is competing in his second clay quarter-final of the season.
"Simon is a great player and very experienced on the clay, the match with him will be another test for me," said Raonic. "He's ranked higher (No. 22 in the world compared to No. 27 for Raonic) but I'll just try to control what I can control and hopefully play my best.
"I hope to again find a way to win."
Raonic began his season ranked 156th in the world standings before registering his first career tournament win in San Jose and reaching the final of another in Memphis in February. Under the guidance of Spanish coach Galo Blanco, Raonic has made steady progress since making his ATP clay-court debut earlier this month. He reached the third round at Monte Carlo and in Barcelona.
Raonic began tournament play here by beating experienced Russian clay-court player Igor Andreev in straight sets. Against Sousa, a wild card, Raonic grabbed early control and led 4-2 despite being broken for the only time in the match.
Raonic made amends quickly, holding serve at love for a 5-3 lead before clinching the set a game later when Sousa sent a forehand into the net. The hard-serving Raonic began the second set with another game at love and dominated throughout on the way to his 22nd win this season against seven losses.
He improved to 8-2 on clay this season.
Second-seeded Fernando Verdasco overcame a late rally by Frederico Gil for a 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory to move on to the quarter-finals.
The left-handed Spaniard won 10 of the first 11 games to lead by a set and 4-0. But Verdasco, who dropped out of the top 10 to No. 15 this year, let Gil back into the match by losing five straight games.
Verdasco committed seven double-faults and Gil focused on the less reliable backhand. Gil, who became the first Portuguese to make an ATP final here last year, forced Verdasco to a tiebreaker but couldn't win it.
Seventh-seeded South African Kevin Anderson defeated Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-4, 6-2.
The top three seeds in the women's competition exited in the quarter-finals.
Top-seeded Alisa Kleybanova lost 6-4, 6-2 to Kristina Barrois, and Monica Niculescu rallied to overcome second-seeded Jarmila Gajdosova 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Anabel Medina Garrigues upset third-seeded Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 7-5.