Barcelona, Apr 22 (EFE).- Rafael Nadal bounced back from a rocky second set to defeat Kei Nishikori 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 here Thursday and secure a berth in the Barcelona Open quarterfinals.
The 34-year-old Spanish great, whose form was better than in his opening match Wednesday against qualifier Ilya Ivashka, appeared to have the round-of-16 contest fully under control after breezing through the opening set thanks mainly to the Japanese player’s unforced errors.
But Nishikori lifted his level at the start of the second set to break the 11-time champion and take a 2-1 lead, the start of a stretch in which Nadal was under pressure from his rival’s forehand and struggled to control his service games.
The world No. 39, who has won this Spanish clay-court event on two occasions and is looking to climb the rankings again after a battle with wrist and elbow injuries, squandered a chance to break Nadal’s serve a second time in the fifth game.
But he then converted a fresh opportunity in the seventh game to extend his advantage to 5-2, and after clinching the second set he earned three break points with Nadal serving at 0-40 in the opening game of the decider.
That game, however, proved to be the key turning point of the match, as the world No. 3 reeled off five points in a row to get out of trouble and then seized a 3-1 lead with a break of his opponent’s serve.
Most importantly for Nadal, he began dictating play in the third set and finishing some points at the net, an aggressive approach that allowed him to earn one more break of serve and clinch the victory in just under two hours and 20 minutes.
“I think I played much better than yesterday; that’s a very important thing for me,” Nadal, who suffered a rare clay-court loss to Russia’s Andrey Rublev last week at the Monte-Carlo Masters, was quoted as saying on the ATP Tour’s website. “The level of positive energy (was) higher, so (I’m) very satisfied.”
Next up for Nadal in Friday’s quarterfinals will be Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie, who was leading Belgium’s David Goffin 6-0, 3-5 when the world No. 12 retired with an injury.
In other round-of-16 action Thursday in Barcelona, fast-rising Italian Jannik Sinner and the seventh-ranked Rublev set up a blockbuster last-eight match by defeating Spaniards Roberto Bautista Agut and Albert Ramos Viñolas, respectively.
Greek world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas also is back in a clay-court quarterfinal less than a week after capturing his first ATP Tour Masters 1000 title at the Monte-Carlo Masters.
Tsitsipas defeated Australia’s Alex de Minaur 7-5, 6-3 on Thursday and will next take on Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime – a 6-2, 6-3 winner over countryman Denis Shapovalov – in the quarterfinals. EFE