Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori have met 14 times, with the Spaniard scoring 12 victories to dominating their rivalry. Their most recent duel came in Barcelona last year, and Nadal scored a 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 triumph for a place in the quarter-final.
It was Rafa's sixth victory over Kei on clay from as many matches, making a strong start and bouncing back in the decider. Speaking about Rafa before the encounter, Kei said that the Spaniard is still tough to beat, especially on clay.
Nishikori wanted to play aggressive tennis and keep the points on his racquet, eager to get back on a winning way after numerous setbacks with injuries. Kei defeated Rafa at the 2015 Canada Open and again at the Rio Olympics a year later, preventing Rafa from winning the singles medal.
Nadal and Nishikori battled in the Barcelona Open final six years ago, and Nadal prevailed in straight sets after two and a half hours. Seeking the 12th Barcelona Open title after an early Monte Carlo loss, Nadal did not play that well against an outsider Ilya Ivashka in the second round.
Struggling to find his strokes, Rafa lost the opening set 6-3 following the Belarusian's double break, and he had to raise his level to avoid a shocking defeat.
Kei Nishikori wished to challenge Rafael Nadal in Barcelona last year.
The Spaniard sailed through his service games and kept the pressure on the other side after the opener.
He delivered two breaks in set number two and prevailed with a single return game in the decider to enter the last 16. Nadal had some issues against Nishikori as well, but it all ended up nicely for him after a reliable performance in the decider.
"Rafa is Rafa; he is still very strong. Ivashka is a very tough opponent. The conditions were not easy either, but I knew that the Belarusian is a complete tennis player. We all understand how tough it is to beat Nadal on clay.
I could never beat him here, so I will have to deliver my best tennis and be more aggressive than usual from the baseline. I am happy to face him on this surface; it will be a good test for me," Kei Nishikori said.