Kei Nishikori fought hard against world No. 3 and top seed Rafael Nadal but was eventually defeated 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 on Thursday in the third round of the Barcelona Open.
Nadal, an 11-time champion at the tournament in his home nation of Spain, reached his 14th career quarterfinal at the ATP 500-level tournament to extend his career head-to-head lead over the Japanese world No. 39 to 12-2.
“I wasn’t able to win all the key points,” Nishikori said after the match, which lasted 2 hours, 19-minutes.
“I don’t understand why I can’t play well consistently and it’s frustrating. I have to put together at least two sets of top-level tennis in a match,” he said.
Nishikori and Nadal were facing each other for the first time since the French Open quarterfinals in 2019, when Nadal beat Nishikori before going on to claim the 12th of his record 13 singles titles at Roland Garros.
Nishikori won the outdoor clay-court tournament in Barcelona in 2014 and 2015.
Nadal, who was upset in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals last week, also needed three sets to get past Belarusian qualifier Ilya Ivashka, ranked No. 111, in his first match on Wednesday.
“I think I played much better than yesterday; that’s a very important thing for me,” Nadal said.
“The level of positive energy was higher, so I’m very satisfied.”
Nadal will face Cameron Norrie, a fellow left-hander, for a place in the semifinals.
Nadal beat Norrie in their only previous meeting in straight sets in the Australian Open third round in February.
No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the champion in Monte Carlo, eased into the last-eight with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over 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,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“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.”
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