Fixture: (1) Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori
Date: 22 April 2021
Tournament: Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell 2021
Round: Third round (Round of 16)
Venue: Barcelona, Spain
Category: ATP 500
Surface: Red Clay
Prize money: €1,565,480
Match timing: Not before 4 pm local time, 7.30 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - ESPN / Tennis Channel | UK - Amazon Prime Video
Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori preview
World No. 3 Rafael Nadal faces Japan's Kei Nishikori in the Barcelona Open Round of 16 on Thursday.
Nadal, an 11-time champion in Barcelona, arrived at the 500-level tournament on the back of a surprising loss to Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo. The Spaniard looked out of sorts against Ilya Ivashka on Wednesday too, dropping the opening set 6-3 and struggling to get any rhythm on his serve.
But Nadal played with more initiative in the next two sets, and eventually came through in three sets.
Meanwhile Kei Nishikori, a two-time champion in Barcelona, is still looking to get back to his best after a string of misfortunes over the last couple of years.
After undergoing elbow surgery at the end of 2019, Nishikori was also forced to sit out of the 2020 US Open due to a positive COVID-19 test. But the Japanese has amassed a couple of quarterfinal results in 2021, with wins over the likes of Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alex de Minaur, David Goffin and Cristian Garin.
The last of those wins came in the second round of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday. Nishikori outlasted Garin in a rematch of their encounter in Hamburg a year ago, which the Chilean had won in three sets.
Nishikori, who was once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world, triumphed at the Barcelona event in both 2014 and 2015.
Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori head-to-head
Rafael Nadal leads Kei Nishikori in the head-to-head by a margin of 11-2. The Spaniard has never lost to Nishikori on clay, with the Japanese's only wins coming at the 2015 Canada Masters and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The pair also met in the championship match at Barcelona five years ago, with Nadal winning in straight sets.
Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori prediction
Kei Nishikori had been a top claycourter for several years before his career-threatening elbow injury.
He has reached the semifinals or better at all three of the Masters 1000 tournaments that are contested on dirt. The Japanese has also finished as the runner-up at two different claycourt Masters - Madrid 2014 and Monte Carlo 2018.
Nishikori has shown glimpses of his claycourt skills during his Barcelona campaign as well, displaying some spectacular shot-making in his two matches so far. The 31-year-old has been hitting solid groundstrokes off both wings this week, and has also been able to mask his serving deficiencies
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, has been struggling with his own issues on serve lately; he failed to get even half of his first serves in during the first set against Ivashka. Although Nadal's serve got better as the match wore on, he can't afford another poor start against a player of the caliber of Nishikori.
But this is Nadal's stomping ground, and he usually irons out all the kinks in his game by the time he gets to the business end of hte tournament. The Spaniard can be expected to right the ship in time once again, and advance to the quarterfinals without much trouble.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in straight sets.