INDIAN WELLS

Raonic and Goffin to square off for Indian Wells final berth

The Canadian beat Gaël Monfils in straight sets and the Belgian dispatched Marin Cilic in two while Victoria Azarenka thrashed Magdalena Rybarikova.

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Raonic and Goffin to square off for Indian Wells final berth
JULIAN FINNEY AFP

Canadian number one Milos Raonic advanced to his second consecutive Indian Wells semi-final Thursday with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Frenchman Gaël Monfils. The meeting under the lights on the main stadium court was a contrast in styles with the hard-serving Raonic overpowering the grease-lightning speed and athleticism of Monfils.

"I am happy with the way I competed, and at the end of the day what counts the most is I took care of my serve," Raonic said.

Raonic moves on to the semis where he will face world number 18 David Goffin, who surprised 10th seeded Croatian Marin Cilic on Thursday 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.

The final two quarter-finals are on Friday with Rafael Nadal squaring off against Kei Nishikori, and world number one Novak Djokovic battling Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Raonic, who just returned from a six-week layoff due to a torn thigh muscle, was unable to play in the Davis Cup earlier this month when Canada lost 5-0 to France. Raonic also beat Monfils in the quarter-finals in January at the Australian Open before losing in the semis to Andy Murray, while feeling the effects of the thigh injury.

But there was no gloating from Raonic on Thursday when asked if this was revenge for France's rout over Canada at the Davis Cup.

"I'm not the guy that holds a grudge. I have one guy across the net that wants something that I want more," Raonic said. "I really wish I could have been there in Guadeloupe, and competed in that scenario."

Raonic beat Nadal in a thrilling quarter final before losing to Swiss star Roger Federer in the semis last year in Indian Wells.

Raonic is known for dominating opponents with his mighty serve, but he earned the victory Thursday by hitting just seven aces. He credits his coach, former world number one Carlos Moya, with helping him make the necessary changes to his game that have enabled him to become a more complete player.

Raonic said he resisted change at the beginning. "I incorporate, I learn, and I take a very strict discipline about really making it better and seeing if it can help me," Raonic said. "I was a little bit stubborn about it [serve]. Who doesn't want a free point, right? The only thing I'm stubborn with is the serve. I think I know pretty good about my serve. Other than that, I think I'm one of the most open guys."

David Goffin.

Goffin toppled Cilic to become the first Belgian male to reach the semi-finals. The 25-year-old saved four set points in the 12th game of the first set before taking it in a tiebreaker.

Goffin then breezed through the second set, finishing with seven aces overall in the 97-minute match at Indian Wells, one of the biggest events on the ATP and WTA calendar outside of the four Grand Slams.

Goffin also defeated Cilic on a clay court in Belgium during the Davis Cup first round on March 6.

Goffin's win over Cilic comes less than 24 hours after he snapped a 14-match losing streak against top-10 players with a fourth-round shocker over French Open champion Stan Wawrinka.

"Even if it's Stan or even if it's Marin, I have to do my job," said the soft-spoken Belgian. "I can compete really well here. I beat Marin .... so it's almost like I beat a top 10 today. For the future, it gives me a lot of confidence."

In the women’s draw, Victoria Azarenka showed little sympathy against an ailing Magdalena Rybarikova as the Belarussian eased to a 6-0 6-0 victory over her Slovak opponent to book a BNP Paribas Open semi-final berth on Thursday.

The 2012 champion polished off the opening set in just 34 minutes as she raced towards a first 'double bagel' at the tournament in two years.

"I think the key was the start. I started really well and took control and I think in the second set, she wasn't really feeling well," Azarenka, who faces big-serving Czech Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals, told reporters. "I'm glad I stayed focused on my game."

Victoria Azarenka shakes hands with Magdalena Rybarikova.

Following the first set, the unseeded Rybarikova took a medical timeout to have her upper thigh taped. Rybarikova was clearly struggling by the end of the match but the Slovakian was always fighting a lost cause as she had her serve broken six times and finished with 25 unforced errors.

Azarenka continues her rise up the rankings after two injury-hampered seasons and the former world number one is exuding confidence in California this week, having dropped just one set in her tournament.

A victory in the final on Sunday would be the 15th-ranked Azarenka's second tournament win of the season after her Brisbane International triumph in January.

"I'm very happy to be playing and to be improving," she said. "It's a different stage of my career where I can work hard and enjoy myself. I see the potential and that's exciting."

Earlier, Pliskova enjoyed a similarly dominant victory when she cruised into the semi-finals with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Russian teenager Darya Kasatkina.

Top seed Serena Williams will take on third-seeded Pole Agnieska Radwanska in Friday's other semi-final. Pliskova blasted 30 winners and powered down nine aces to end Kasatkina's fairytale run in California, wrapping up the win in a little more than an hour at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The 18-year-old Russian was unable to replicate the form she produced in ousting 12th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky in straight sets in the previous round as she was overpowered by the world number 19.

"I was really happy with the way I played, I think it was one of the best matches that I played here so far," Pliskova, 24, told reporters after reaching her first WTA Premier Mandatory semi-final.

"I played some good tennis this week, and then there is Miami (next week), so I have chances to improve my ranking and get close to the top 10 again."

While Kasatkina's dream run at Indian Wells finally came to an end, the 48th-ranked Russian was able to reflect on her rapid improvement since this time last year when she was toiling away on the lower-tier ITF circuit.

"Now I'm [going to be] top 40," Kasatkina said of her rise up the world rankings. "Last year I was 340. Yeah, it was pretty fast!"