Facing each other for the first time, the 4th seed the two-time Barcelona champion Kei Nishikori toppled the most promising youngster in the world Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-1, 6-3 in an hour and 23 minutes. The Japanese landed only 54% of the first serve in, fending off five out of six break points to keep the pressure on the Canadian who couldn't endure it, dropping more than half of the points behind the initial shot and ending his first Barcelona campaign in the third round.
Nishikori had 16 winners and 18 unforced errors, leaving Auger-Aliassime on 11 winners and 26 errors and overpowering him in dynamic baseline rallies to secure the place in the last eight. Kei was the dominant figure in the opening set, rattling off one good hold after another and breaking the youngster three times for a 6-1.
Felix sprayed a forehand error in the opening game to suffer an early break and did the same at 1-3 to hand Nishikori another break that pushed the 4th seed 4-1 in front. A volley winner in game seven got the job done for Kei who forged a 3-1 advantage in set number two after a costly double fault from Auger-Aliassime who was yet to show why he was seeded 16th here in Barcelona.
Kei repelled five break points in the following game to extend the lead before Felix broke him at love in game seven to reduce the deficit to 4-3. It wasn't to be for him, though, wasting a game point to experience a break after another forehand mistake and allowing Kei to bring the match home with a hold at 15 in game nine to set Roberto Carballes Baena clash on Friday.
"It's been almost five years now since my last Barcelona title and I'm sure I have changed, more disciplined and solid from the baseline. I think I can play a little bit more aggressive from inside the baseline and try to come to the net a little bit more, although not that much on the clay court, though.
Asian players for sure need more experience, if they can, I recommend them to come to Europe or the USA for some tournaments and not stay in Asia all the time. For me it worked out, moving to the USA and having a chance to play against so many different guys and having to figure out how to give my best against all of them.
In comparison, they all play the same game in Asia, with flat groundstrokes, and there is no chance you will get the opportunity to compete against someone like John Isner. I got a lot of confidence from winning tournaments in Europe and from working at the IMG Academy, having a chance to hit with Tommy Haas, Xavier Malisse and Max Mirnyi at the age of 14 or 15.
That helped me to get closer to the ATP Tour, feeling more experienced. I didn't check the draw, playing one match at a time but it would be nice to play in the final again here. It will not be easy, though, with many great clay-courters in the field.
I will try to do my best and go deep this week. It would be nice to have more tournaments in Asia, especially on the ATP level since we have a lot of Challengers and Futures. I know it is tough in terms of schedule and everything, that's why players have to compete outside of Asia."