11-time champion Rafael Nadal was given another scare at Barcelona on Thursday. The Spaniard was taken to three sets by Kei Nishikori, but he managed to close out a 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 win and advance to the quarterfinals.
Despite winning the first set without dropping a single game, Nadal looked fairly tentative with his shot-making throughout the match. Nishikori, on his part, took the ball on the rise and played with conviction as he broke Nadal twice in the second set to push the match into a decider.
The Spaniard then trailed Nishikori 0-40 at the start of the third set, but saved all three break points to stay afloat. He never looked back from there.
During the press conference after his victory, Rafael Nadal was asked to evaluate his own performance in relation to Kei Nishikori's. The 34-year-old replied that even though Nishikori got bagelled in the first set, he played the big points very well.
Nadal went on to claim that he was happy with his own showing, as he had more 'positive energy' than in his second-round match against Ilya Ivashka (which also went to three sets).
"I don't think he started by playing at a very good level. I was much better than yesterday, a lot more dynamic but he was dominating the big points," Rafael Nadal said. "The level of positive energy was higher, so very satisfied. I missed the crowd but missed winning more."
Rafael Nadal also claimed that although he won the first set by a score of 6-0, that was not an indicator of how the match would pan out.
"It happens when you win a first set this way, even though the truth has not been this," Nadal said.
"After each victory, it means a lot to me and I take every chance I have to get back on the track" - Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal then admitted that he "hadn't done anything" special to jump out to a one-set lead. The Spaniard claimed the match changed the moment Nishikori lifted his level, and that things got "complicated" towards the end.
"Sometimes you feel you haven't done anything, I didn't feel like I had played well and that there's no danger," Nadal said. "He started playing well soon and you saw it was very complicated, no?"
Nadal was eventually able to wrest the momentum back and take the third set, and he asserted in his presser that the win was a means for him to 'get back on track'. The Spaniard seems confident of rounding into form for the business end of the tournament, even if he didn't play his best in the first two matches.
"After each victory, it means a lot to me and I take every chance I have to get back on the track," Nadal added. "It might not be that great a victory for me, but it's enough for me to be ready for tomorrow."