By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - David Ferrer's progress towards a fourth title at the Australian Open warm-up in Auckland became a strut on Thursday when the world number five swept aside Lukas Lacko 6-2 6-1 to reach the semi-finals.
The Spaniard, who will be seeded fourth at Melbourne Park next week in the absence of compatriot Rafa Nadal, needed just 54 minutes to beat the Slovakian and set up a semi-final against German Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The fifth seed in the men's draw for the year's first grand slam, Tomas Berdych, had a less enjoyable day when he was humbled 6-3 6-2 by resurgent former world number one Lleyton Hewitt at the Kooyong Classic.
Australian Hewitt, now 31 and ranked 82nd in the world, beat world number 15 Milos Raonic in his first round robin match on Wednesday and his 88-minute victory over Czech Berdych puts him into the final of the exhibition event.
There he will meet either Argentina's world number seven Juan Martin Del Potro or Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, who face off at Kooyong on Friday.
"I'm just thrilled to be able to perform like this against quality players and on back-to-back days," Hewitt told reporters.
"I've had five tough sets in two days and that will hold me in good stead for next week."
The men's event at the Sydney International warm-up reached the quarter-final stage with just one seed still standing after upsets and injury withdrawals ravaged the draw.
Frenchman Julien Benneteau, well rested after his second round tie on Wednesday went just four points before Radek Stepanek retired hurt, cruised past American qualifier Ryan Harrison 6-4 6-2.
South Africa's Kevin Anderson joined him in the semi-finals with an equally straightforward 6-4 6-3 win over Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
Australian young gun Bernard Tomic faces defending champion Jarkko Nieminen in his quarter-final later on Thursday with the winner going on to play third seed Andreas Seppi or Marcel Granollers in the last four.
Top seed Agnieszka Radwanska and China's Li Na meet in the first women's semi-final at Sydney later on Thursday with second seed Angelique Kerber taking on Dominika Cibulkova for the second place in Friday's final.
Men's top seed John Isner, who lost to Harrison on Wednesday, pulled out of the Australian Open because of a knee injury on Thursday leaving Sam Querrey as the only American men's seed at Melbourne Park this year.
Querrey overcame Canada's Jesse Levine 6-4 7-6 in Auckland and will face Germany's Tommy Haas or French wildcard Gael Monfils in the semi-finals.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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