In one of the most anticipated encounters of the tournament, former Barcelona Open champions Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori will battle for the place in the quarter-final on Thursday. It will be their 14th clash on the Tour, the first since Roland Garros 2019, with Nadal winning 11 of those and all five on clay.
Kei defeated Rafa at the Canada Open 2015 and again at the Rio Olympics a year later, preventing Rafa from winning the singles medal. Five years ago, Nadal and Nishikori battled in the Barcelona Open final, with Nadal prevailing in straight sets after two and a half hours.
Seeking the 12th Barcelona Open title after an early Monte Carlo loss, Nadal didn't play that well against an outsider Ilya Ivashka. Struggling to find his strokes, Rafa lost the opening set 6-3 following the Belarusian's double break, having to raise his level if he wanted to avoid a shocking defeat.
The Spaniard sailed through his service games and kept the pressure on the other side from set number two, delivering two breaks in set number two and prevailing with a single return game in the decider to enter the last 16.
Nadal will have to provide better numbers if he wants to beat Kei and remain on the title course, with the Japanese hoping to topple the great rival on the slowest surface for the first time.
Kei Nishikori is hoping to beat Rafael Nadal for the first time on clay.
Speaking about Rafa, Kei said that the Spaniard is still tough to beat, especially on clay.
Nishikori will try to play aggressive tennis and keep the points on his racquet, eager to get back on a winning way after numerous setbacks with injuries over the last couple of years. "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 do 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.