Brands eliminated 2012 tournament runner-up Gael Monfils 6-1, 7-5, winning nearly three-quarters of the points on serve. He finished off both his break opportunities in the first set and ended Monfils' hopes of a comeback with two more in the second.
Ferrer dumped Paolo Lorenzi 6-3, 6-0 without allowing Lorenzi a break-point opportunity. Ferrer lost only nine points in the second-set shutout.
Gasquet defeated Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-3. The game he lost in the first set was a service break but he had five of his own over the course of the match. At 1 hour, 11 minutes, it was the longest of the four quarterfinals Thursday.
Nikolay Davydenko had the shortest match of the day -- 50 minutes -- in a 6-1, 6-1 romp over Simone Bolelli. Davydenko won more than 70 percent of the points in the match. He took three-quarters of the points on serve while going 5-for-5 in break chances.
Davydenko earned a semifinal slot opposite Ferrer, against whom he is 3-2 lifetime. Gasquet takes a 1-0 career mark against Brands into the other semifinal.
Murray advances, Raonic loses in Brisbane
BRISBANE, Australia, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- No. 1-seeded Andy Murray needed three sets to advance and second-seed Milos Raonic lost Thursday at the Brisbane International tennis tournament.
Murray, who is the defending champion of the event, slipped past qualifier John Millman 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, Millman forced 10 break points on Murray but was able to finish off only two, both in the second set.
Murray lost as many points on serve in the second set -- 18 -- as he did in the first and third sets combined.
Grigor Dimitrov was on the court just 61 minutes in dispatching Raonic 6-3, 6-4. He lost 11 points in 10 games serving and saved both break points he faced while posting a break in each set.
Murray draws Istomin in Friday's quarterfinals while fourth-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov plays No. 5-seed Kei Nishikori in the other match in the top half of the draw. Melzer goes against Dimitrov and third-seeded Gilles Simon meets Marcos Baghdatis in the other quarterfinals.
Li, Peng square off in Shenzhen semifinals
Li, the No 1 seed in the inaugural year of the tournament, defeated eighth-seeded Bojana Jovanovski 6-3, 6-3 behind five breaks in nine receiving games. Li won 57 percent of the points on serve and 51 percent when Jovanovski served.
Peng, seeded sixth, claimed a 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 decision over Annika Beck. Peng controlled the third set, winning two-thirds of the points overall and dropping just three points in four games serving.
The other quarterfinals Thursday saw fifth-seeded Klara Zakopalova oust No. 2-seeded Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-2 with five breaks and Monica Niculescu stop Zhou Yi-Miao 6-4, 6-2 with six breaks in the nine games Zhou served.
Li is 4-1 lifetime versus Peng while Friday's semifinal will mark the first meeting between Zakopalova and Niculescu.
Azarenka, Williams to meet in semifinals
Friday's semifinal match pits the world No. 1 in Azarenka against Williams, No. 3 in the rankings but who had a sterling second half of the 2012 season. Williams owns a lopsided 11-1 career record over Azarenka and has won the last nine times they played. That includes a 5-0 mark in 2012 during which Williams topped Azarenka in the finals of the U.S. Open and the semifinals at the Olympics and Wimbledon.
Azarenka gained the semifinals shot at Williams with a 6-1, 6-0 romp over Ksenia Pervak. The only game she lost was on serve as Azarenka won 70 percent of the points off Pervak's serve.
Williams defeated Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3 by finishing off her lone break chance in each set. Williams lost only 16 points on serve and won the only two break points she saw from Stephens.
The other semifinal sends unseeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova against Lesia Tsurenko, who was dropped into the draw when Maria Sharapova withdrew with an injury. Pavlyuchenkova won in their only previous meeting.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]
Michael Sam cut from the Dallas Cowboys