Nishikori, Nadal stay on collision course in Barcelona


Kei Nishikori moved into the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open with a straight-sets win over Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev on Thursday.

Fourth-seeded Nishikori, who defeated Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round in his first match since March, capitalized on a number of errors by Golubev to take the first set 6-0. Despite a tougher battle in the next, he prevailed 6-4 to wrap up victory in 76 minutes.

“Today my serve saved me at crucial moments in the match,” said Nishikori. “I got myself in some tight spots in the second set but was able to focus and regain my rhythm.

“I also got advice from my coach (Michael Chang) and am playing with confidence on clay as well.”

Nishikori suffered a groin injury during the Sony Open in March that forced him to miss Japan’s Davis Cup World Group quarterfinal earlier this month.

Nishikori will take on 12th seed Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals after the Bosnian bested Spain’s Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-7 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5).

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal maintained his quest for a ninth title here with a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 over Ivan Dodig, racking up his 42nd win in 43 matches at the tournament.

The 13-time Grand Slam champion has been far from happy with his form in recent weeks, but after a slow start had far too much for the world No. 37 as he broke four times in total before sealing victory in 1 hour and 23 minutes.

Nadal was happier with his performance against Dodig than in his second-round outing against journeyman Albert Ramos on Wednesday.

“I think from yesterday it is a step forward. I had a bit more intensity in my legs today and I can go away from the court a bit calmer,” he told Spanish TV station Teledeporte.

“In the second set I began to play pretty well, so I am happy to win because Dodig is always a difficult opponent. I felt pretty good throughout the match and now I have to prepare for another difficult game tomorrow.”

Nadal first broke the Dodig serve in the fifth game, but the Croatian immediately broke back to level at 3-3.

Next up for Nadal is a meeting with fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro as the world No. 20 overcame compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-3 to avenge his defeat in the Houston final just 11 days ago.

Just one break in the eighth game was enough for Almagro to take the first set.

Ninth seed Ernests Gulbis also secured his place in the quarters with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Albert Montanes.

The Latvian will face Russia’s Teimuraz Gabashvili in the last eight after he continued his fine week, after shocking second seed David Ferrer on Wednesday, with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Inigo Cervantes.

Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber meets Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo in Friday’s other quarterfinal.

Sharapova into quarters

Stuttgart Germany AFP-JIJI

Defending champion Maria Sharapova reached the last eight of the Stuttgart Open on Thursday with a convincing 6-4, 6-3 win over fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The 27-year-old Sharapova needed just 1 hour and 32 minutes to see off Pavlyuchenkova to pick up her 10th straight victory here, having won the 2012 and 2013 titles, and faces Polish top seed Agnieszka Radwanska in Friday’s quarterfinals.

“I’m pleased to have won in two sets, but I am never really happy with my performance and always want to improve,” said Sharapova.

Her victory was in stark contrast to her struggles of Tuesday when she needed three tiebreaks and more than 3 hours to defeat Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in their first-round match.

Seeded sixth this year, Sharapova is aiming for a third straight title on the red clay as the preparations for the French Open get fully under way.

The four-time Grand Slam champion looked solid enough on serve, with just five double-faults to eight by her opponent and she had Pavlyuchenkova under constant pressure with her booming returns.

Radwanska proved too good for Italian doubles specialist Roberta Vinci, winning 6-3, 6-2.

“Radwanska is the No. 3 in the world and everyone knows she plays extremely well, but I love challenges like this,” said Sharapova, who leads Radwanska 8-2 in previous meetings.

“There are no secrets to our games, we know each other very well, but have not played each other for a while on clay. It will be interesting and I’ll have to improve in all areas.”