Eight-time winner Rafael Nadal and two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori headline the field at the Barcelona Open, taking place between April 18-24.
Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori are yet to drop a set this week as they each secured straightforward victories on Thursday to book their spots in the Barcelona Open BancSabadell quarter-finals.
Nadal improved his record in Barcelona to a staggering 45-3 after cruising past veteran compatriot and wildcard Albert Montanes 6-2 6-2. Nadal broke serve five times and won 71 per cent of his service points to reach yet another Barcelona quarter-final in 68 minutes. It was Nadal’s fourth tour-level win over the 35-year-old Montanes.
Rafael Nadal (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
“I started off very well and felt really good. I’m happy about the victory and very happy about the way I played today,” Nadal said after the win. “I had a great forehand today and the conditions were much better than yesterday.”
It wasn’t quite as comfortable for two-time defending champion Nishikori, with the second seed needing two chances to serve out the match in a 6-3 7-5 victory over 13th seed Jeremy Chardy. Nishikori served for the match at 5-4 in the second but couldn’t close the deal. However he broke Chardy again in the 11th game before making no mistake at the second time of asking. Nishikori has now won 12 straight matches at the prestigious ATP 500 tournament after winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
Kei Nishikori (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Nishikori takes a perfect 4-0 record and 8-0 streak in sets into his quarter-final clash with the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov. Nadal meanwhile takes on enigmatic Italian Fabio Fognini - the man that he lost to in Barcelona last year. The third round exit was Nadal’s earliest defeat in Barcelona since 2003.
“Tomorrow will be a tough match against Fognini, he beat me three times last year and it was up and down against him.” said Nadal.
One of 13 ATP 500 tournaments for the season, and the only one on clay, the Barcelona Open was established back in 1953 and is played at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona - the oldest tennis club in Spain. Rafael Nadal has won the singles title a record eight times, but his stranglehold on the event was broken two years ago when fellow top 10 star Kei Nishikori secured his maiden Barcelona Open title - and then successfully defended it last year. Spaniards traditionally excel at the Barcelona Open, with only two finals since 1996 featuring two players from other countries.
Continuously enjoying a stellar line-up, this year’s Barcelona Open has attracted four top 10 players, including Nadal and Nishikori, along with four-time runner up David Ferrer and consistent threat Richard Gasquet.
Similarly to Monte-Carlo, Nadal dominated this tournament at his peak, winning eight titles between 2005 and 2013 - missing out on 2010 due to fatigue. However the 14-time grand slam champion has suffered consecutive disappointing defeats in his last two visits to Barcelona, going down to Nicolas Almagro and Fabio Fognini in the quarter-finals and third round respectively. Registering wins on clay is vital for Nadal’s confidence and upcoming Roland Garros campaign, and after a successful week in Monte-Carlo, he will be hoping to continue that winning momentum into Barcelona.
Nishikori meanwhile will be fresh for this event after opting to skip the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters following his run to the Miami Open final last month. Like the ATP 250 event at Memphis in February - where Nishikori is a four-time defending champion - the World No. 6 has enjoyed immense success in Barcelona over the last two years, and he will be aiming to join Nadal and Mats Wilander as the only men to have claimed a three-peat at the tournament in it’s 63-year history. Nishikori defeated ever-improving Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the final last year, after accounting for Columbian Santiago Giraldo in 2014.
Bautista Agut returns as the fifth seed this year, while Giraldo is also back but unseeded. Other notable names in the 48-player draw include Benoit Paire - who served for the match against Andy Murray last week in Monte Carlo - Pablo Cuevas - already a two-time ATP title winner on clay in 2016 - Alexandr Dolgopolov - always a dangerous threat and Fabio Fognini - who owns two clay victories over Nadal, including at Barcelona last year.
It promises to be an entertaining week in the Catalonian region of Spain, with Nadal and Nishikori leading the charge in their respective bids to add more Barcelona silverware to their trophy cabinets.
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