Last year’s finalist Nick Kyrgios got his delayed clay season off to a winning start on Wednesday to set up an ATP showdown with Croatian teenager Borna Coric at the Estoril Open.
The Australian, who has not competed since an April 1 Miami semi-final, made his Portuguese return as he beat Spain’s Inigo Cervantes 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 in the second round following a bye.
He earned the victory in 72 minutes on his 21st birthday to set up the high-profile first-time meeting with Croatian 19-year-old Coric.
Kyrgios is back at this seaside resort outside of Lisbon after winning the first trophy of his career in February in Marseille.
The world number 20 claimed his 15th victory of the season as he broke in the 11th game of the second set and finished a game later on the first of his three match points. He ended with nine aces.
Coric had to go the two-hour distance as he held off a charge from Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.
The sixth-seed duplicated his showing from a year ago on his debut when he moved into the last eight.
“I was happy with how I played in the first set,” said the winner. “But in the second set his level rose and I realised I was playing too passively.
“In the third I went back more offense. The quarter-final with Nick will be tough and I’m not favoured.
“But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going out there to fight and to try and win.”
Coric looked like advancing in straight sets against 101-ranked Dutra Silva, but he lost his way as he dropped serve to trail 4-5 in the second set after earning the first.
The Brazilian levelled at a set each but faded in the third as Coric fought back to stake his claim on victory through five aces and the same number of service breaks.
Coric stands just 13-11 this season despite finals in Chennai and Marrakech.
In the first round, Spanish wild card Fernando Verdasco, who replaced injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, made only a token 58-minute showing as he lost his first-round match to eighth seed Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-3.
Verdasco, ranked 51st after once standing inside the ATP top 10, only arrived on Tuesday after winning a rain-delayed final in Bucharest on Monday for the seventh title of his career.
“Conditions here were difficult and Pablo put me under a lot of pressure. I did what I could but it would have been tough for me to win today,” the Spaniard said.
“When you are not at 100 per cent and are facing a good player, these things can happen. Coming here so late after the final did not help me.”
Spain’s fifth seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez advanced into the quarters as he defeated Stephane Robert of France 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).