Eight-time winner Rafael Nadal beat 12th-seeded Fabio Fognini 6-2 7-6 (7-1) to advance to the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open on Friday, avenging his loss to the Italian at the tournament last year.
The top-seeded Spaniard broke Fognini three times to take the first set but had to fight back from 4-2 down to force a tiebreaker in the second, which Nadal won when Fognini’s poorly hit return went wide.
Nadal faces his first semi-final on Barcelona’s outdoor clay court since he won his eighth title in 2013. He plays either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Andrey Kuznetsov.
Also, two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori overcame a lacklustre start to beat 11th-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov 7-5 6-0.
The second-seeded Japanese will face Benoit Paire in Saturday’s semifinals.
Last year, Nadal was upset here by Fognini in straight sets in the round of 16. Fognini then beat the former No.1 in five sets at the US Open.
Nadal now hopes to be ending a poor run from the last 18 months as he closes in on another final a week after winning his ninth title at Monte Carlo.
The fifth-ranked Nadal said that the difference this year was his improved ability to remain confident when matches turned against him.
“If this had happened last year, it might not have been a drama, but it would have caused an attack of nerves,” Nadal said. “I am still angry I wasn’t able to go up 3-0 (in the second set). At that moment I knew anything could happen.”
Early, Nishikori saved four set points before holding on to claim the first set from Dolgopolov.
“I struggled a little in the first set, but I played well in the second,” Nishikori said. “It was great to save that set point. After that I was a different player.”
Dolgopolov got sloppy in the second set, making 32 unforced errors to Nishikori’s 16 in the match on the outdoor clay court.
The sixth-seeded Paire came from behind Malek Jaziri 3-6 7-5 6-1 in an erratic performance that saw the Frenchman hit six aces and six double-faults.