BARCELONA, SPAIN – Kei Nishikori won his first clay match of the season returning from a three-week absence due to a groin injury with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the third-round of the Barcelona Open on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old fourth-seeded Nishikori, who hadn’t played since pulling out of his Miami Masters semifinal with Novak Djokovic on March 28, said he had felt no pain during the match which he won in just under two hours against the 45th-ranked Spaniard.
“I’m very happy to win,” said Nishikori, who had prepared for the tournament by training on clay in Florida last week.
Nishikori, ranked 17th in the world, next faces Andrey Golubev after the Kazakh won when French 16th seed Benoit Paire quit late in their match trailing 6-4, 5-1.
Nishikori, whose best performance in Barcelona was reaching the quarterfinals in 2012, was pleased with the majority of his game.
“I played well in the first and third set and he was more aggressive in the second. I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “There was a bit of a momentum shift in the third set. It was a good win for me.”
Nishikori is accompanied this week by coach Michael Chang, whom he says is giving him confidence.
“He hasn’t changed much in my clay game,” he said of the 1989 French Open winner.
“But he does give me a lot of information, I can learn a lot from him.”
Ninth seed Ernests Gulbis won his second-round contest over Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver 7-5, 7-6 (7-1).
Top seed and eight-time Barcelona champion Rafael Nadal will play Albert Ramos in the second round.