The 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal will compete in the 14th Barcelona Open quarter-final, beating Kei Nishikori 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 after two hours and 19 minutes. It was Nadal's 12th win over Nishikori in 14 encounters and the sixth on clay, struggling like against Ivashka yesterday but crossing the finish line first to advance into the last eight.
Like yesterday against Ilya Ivashka, Nadal struggled to find the first serve and barely landed to put half of the first serves in. Still, he gave away only seven points, defending both break chances and securing three breaks for a bagel.
The 11-time winner held with a service winner in the first game and took four straight points on the return in the one to grab an early break when another former champion netted a backhand. Nadal saved two break points in game three and brought it home following Nishikori's forehand mistake to keep the initial serve intact and open a 3-0 gap.
The home favorite landed a deep return in game four that Kei failed to control, forging a 4-0 advantage and firing a service winner a few minutes later for a hold at 15. Serving to stay in the set, Nishikori got broken at 15 to experience the third straight break and hand a bagel to Nadal, who needed half an hour to put the opening set in his bag.
Rafa fended off a break point in the second set's first game with a backhand crosscourt winner and held when Kei sprayed a backhand error. The Japanese hit a double fault in game two to face a break chance, repelling it to stay in touch and leveling the score at 1-1 following Nadal's loose forehand.
Out of a sudden, Nadal sent a backhand long right after the serve in the third game to lose serve for the first time and push the opponent 2-1 in front. Finding the rhythm in those moments, Nishikori held with a good initial shot that sent him 3-1 up, looking good to force a decider.
Rafael Nadal defeated Kei Nishikori for the 12th time in 14 matches.
With nothing working his way in the last couple of days, Nadal dug deep to repel two break points in game five and avoid an even more significant deficit, closing it with a much-needed service winner to remain within one break deficit.
Kei held after deuce in game six thanks to Rafa's forehand error to maintain the advantage and broke Nadal's serve again for a 5-2 lead. The Japanese completed the set in style with a forehand winner in game eight, forcing a decider and increasing his chances of beating Rafa on clay for the first time.
With his back pushed against the wall, Rafa faced three break points at the start of the decider, remaining calm and saving them to bring the game home and stop his downfall, at least for now. Kei held at 15 to level the score at 1-1, hoping for more chances on the return that would have pushed him closer to the finish line.
Nadal survived another scare at 1-1, erasing a break chance and bringing the game home with a smash winner for at least some boost. That break point gained even more significant importance in the next game, as Nadal grabbed his first break since the opening set for a 3-1 advantage.
The Spaniard held at 15 in game five to confirm the break and extend the lead, moving two games away from the finish line. Losing steam, Nishikori played against two break opportunities in game six and saved them to survive and clinched it with a forehand down the line winner for 2-4.
It was Rafa's turn to experience troubles on serve in game seven, saving a break chance and sealing the game with a service winner to remain in front. Returning at 5-2, Nadal moved over the top with a forehand down the line winner, securing the second break of the set and moving into the last eight.