Rafael Nadal Fights Off Spirited Kei Nishikori Challenge to Reach the Quarter-Final of Barcelona Open 2021

Published 04/22/2021, 1:00 PM EDT
Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Monte Carlo Masters – Monte-Carlo Country Club, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France – April 14, 2021 Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his second round match against Argentina’s Federico Delbonis REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

After a nervy win in the tournament opener, 11-time champion Rafael Nadal fought off a spirited challenge from World No.4 Kei Nishikori to reach the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Open on Thursday.


Article continues below this ad

Rafael Nadal imposes himself on Kei Nishikori, wins the opening set 6-0

The current World No.3 had an 11-2 lead in the pair’s 13 head-to-head battles going into the round-of-16 clash on Thursday. However, with two titles in Barcelona under his belt, the Japanese wasn’t going to be a pushover for the Spaniard.


Article continues below this ad

Nadal opened proceedings with a clinical service game, getting off the mark in the opening set. Signaling his intent very early in the piece, the Spaniard unleashed a fierce forehand cross court to go 0-15 in the next game. However, the World No. 30 recovered well to go up 40-30.

An unforced error off Nishikori’s handle leveled the score and Nadal, after a fierce trading of shots, brought up his first breakpoint and cashed in on it to go 2-0 clear in the opening set.

The Japanese hit right back, binging up two breakpoints on the Spaniard’s serve. However, Nadal conjured up two straight points to bring himself level on deuce.

Nadal had game point, but Nishikori pulled it back to deuce with a brilliant piece of net play. However, the Spaniard managed to hold, extending his lead in the first set to 3-0.

Unforced errors didn’t help the Japanese as he trailed 0-15 in his following service game. The Spaniard put his legs to work to reach a backhand and produced a stunning single-handed cross court winner, sending the motley crowd into stunned disbelief.

Tennis – ATP Cup – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 6, 2021, Japan’s Kei Nishikori before his group stage match against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

He converted the resulting breakpoint to go up 4-0. Another confident service hold saw the Spaniard pull 5-0 clear and it seemed one-way traffic, with the Spaniard literally imposing himself on the former World No.4.

With the unforced errors piling up against his name, the Japanese faced another breakpoint opportunity against his serve.

Nadal converted his third breakpoint to take the opening set 6-0.

The Spaniard opened the second set with a double fault. A brilliant drop shot saw the Japanese level the score at 30-30.

Nadal served another double fault to concede breakpoint, but he managed to bring it back to deuce. Two inexplicable unforced errors saw the Japanese blow a golden chance to open the second set with a break as the Spaniard held serve to go 1-0 up.

Taking advantage of a limp second serve, Nadal leveled the score at 15-15 in the next game. Bringing incredible wrist work into play, the Spaniard produced an unbelievable flicked winner to 30-40 up.

With some good approach play at the net, the Japanese pulled it back to deuce. Cashing it on game point, Nishikori finally managed to get himself on the score board.

Misfiring Rafael Nadal goes down in second as Kei Nishikori restores parity in the match

An unforced error from Nadal saw Nishikori level the score at 30-30 in the next game. He pressed the Spaniard’s serve to bring up a breakpoint and converted it to take a 2-1 lead in second set.

Three straight points saw the Japanese open up a 40-0 lead in the following game and he converted the game point again to extend his lead to 3-1. One could sense a subtle shift in momentum in the game.

Bringing an aggressive net game to the fore, Nishikori put himself in sight of a double break. However, Nadal produced two straight winners to restore parity in the game.

The Spaniard brought up game point and converted it to reduce his deficit to 3-2.

Producing a sumptuous forehand cross court, Nadal leveled the score at deuce in the following game. However, the Japanese held his nerve and serve to extend his lead to 4-2 in the second.

Pushing the Spaniard on the backfoot with phenomenal groundstrokes, Nishikori brought up two breakpoints the second of which he converted to go up 5-2.

Another clinical service game saw the Japanese take the second set 6-2, thereby restoring parity in the match.

Rafael Nadal produces vintage tennis, Kei Nishikori loses plot in the decider

A brilliant sliding down-the-line saw Nishikori open up three breakpoints but Nadal fought back like only he can to level the score. He then brought up game point and converted it to go 1-0 in the decider.

The Japanese responded with a confident hold to make it 1-1. Staring another breakpoint on his next service, Nadal won a crucial point to pull it back to deuce.

The Spaniard managed to hold and opened the following game with a point to go 0-15 up. He followed up with two more points to bring up three breakpoints.

Seizing his chance, the reigning French Open champion converted his third breakpoint in the game to go 3-1 up in the decider.

With a spring in his step, the Spaniard served out the next game to go up 4-1 clear.

Conceding two straight points, the Japanese stared at another break of serve at 15-30. However, he reeled off two straight points to be in sight of winning the game.

However, an incredible drop shot from Nadal took the score to deuce. But the Japanese managed to recover and hold serve, reducing his deficit to 2-4.


Article continues below this ad

Fighting back after coming close to conceding another break, the Spaniard managed to hold to take a vice-like grip on the match.

Serving to stay in the match, Kei Nishkori faced a match point as an attempted volley caught the net cord.


Rafael Nadal Explains Why He Chose Tennis As a Career

5 months ago


Article continues below this ad

Having saved a match point, he conceded another after pulling a shot long. Nadal made no mistake this time, smacking a winner to close out an absorbing game reach yet another quarter-final at Barcelona.


Priyabrata Chowdhury

845 articles

Priyabrata Chowdhury is a tennis author for EssentiallySports. He has been a print journalist for a decade, producing news pages for leading national dailies such as the Hindustan Times and The New Indian Express. His passion for sports eventually drove him to tennis writing.