(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Rafael Nadal needed to go the distance for the second successive day in Barcelona, defeating Japan's Kei Nishikori to make the last-eight and stay on course for a 12th title at the tournament.
The world number three triumphed 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 over 2014 and 2015 champion Nishikori and next face Britain's Cameron Norrie, a fellow left-hander, for a place in the semi-finals.
Nadal, who suffered a surprise quarter-final exit at the Monte Carlo Masters last week, had also required three sets to beat Belarusian qualifier Ilya Ivashka, ranked at 111, in his Barcelona opener on Wednesday.
Former world number four Nishikori, now down at 39 in the rankings, was left to regret converting just two of 13 break points carved out against the man who also beat him in the 2016 Barcelona final.
'I think I played much better than yesterday; that's a very important thing for me, Nadal said on court.
'The level of positive energy (was) higher, so (I'm) very satisfied.
The World No. 3 started by breaking the Japanese 31-year-old in the opening game to set the tone, blitzing through the first set in just 30 minutes. His pressure was relentless with Nishikori taking little risks, managing just three winners. The 11-time Barcelona champion entered the matchup with a dominant 11-2 record in their ATP Head2Head Series but hadn't played against Nishikori in nearly two years.
Nishikori finally got on the scoreboard for 1-1 in the second set. With that hurdle behind him, he started teeing off on his forehand and made it three games in a row for 3-1, taking full control of the momentum. A former World No. 4, Nishikori is a two-time winner in Barcelona (2014 and 2015). He would earn a double-break and seal the set, marking the first time in history that Nadal has played a deciding set in back-to-back matches in Barcelona (he beat Ivashka 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday).
Out-defending Nadal wasn't going to work so Nishikori moved more inside the court, taking charge instead of hanging too far back. He began changing direction better and pushed Nadal out of his comfort zone, making efficient use of his backhand down the line and closing with his forehand.
But Nadal would not be shaken up for too long and Nishikori couldn't convert on his opportunities. In the third set, Nadal survived a 0/40 first game scare by reeling off five points in a row. He'd save more break points (5/5 total in the set) and get rewarded for his clutch play with his own break for 3-1, followed by another at 5-2 to capture the win. The Spaniard improves to 63-4 in Barcelona.
World number 58 Norrie progressed when Belgian eighth seed David Goffin retired with an injury in the second set.
Nadal defeated Norrie in their only previous meeting in straight sets in the Australian Open third round in February.
Second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the champion in Monte Carlo, eased into the last-eight with a 7-5, 6-3 victory Australian 14th seed Alex de Minaur.
Tsitsipas next faces 11th seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime who got the better of compatriot Denis Shapovalov 6-2, 6-3. 'I was happy with my level today, said Auger-Aliassime.
'It's never easy to play against him and it's great to have won in straight sets. The next match won't be easy, a tough challenge.
Russian third seed Andrey Rublev, the runner-up to Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo, claimed a 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 6-4 victory over Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas in two and a half hours.
Rublev, who has a tour-leading 26 wins in 2021, fired 35 winners past the Spanish clay-courter. He has an intriguing quarter-final against red-hot Italian teenager and 11th seed Jannik Sinner who defeated fifth seed Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (11/9), 6-2. It was Sinner's third win over the veteran Spaniard this year.
(x denotes seeding)
Rafael Nadal (ESP x1) bt Kei Nishikori (JPN) 6-0, 2-6, 6-2
Cameron Norrie (GBR) bt David Goffin (BEL x8) 6-0, 3-5 - retired
Diego Schwartzman (ARG x4) bt Corentin Moutet (FRA) 6-4, 6-2
Jannik Sinner (ITA x11) bt Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x5) 7-6 (11/9), 6-2
Andrey Rublev (RUS x3) bt Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 6-4
Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN x10) bt Denis Shapovalov (CAN x7) 6-2, 6-3
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE x2) bt Alex de Minaur (AUS x14) 7-5, 6-3
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