World No. 1 Rafael Nadal maintained his quest for a ninth Barcelona Open title with a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 over Ivan Dodig on Thursday, racking up his 42nd win in 43 matches at the tournament.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion has been far from happy with his form in recent weeks, but after a slow start had far too much for the world No. 37 as he broke four times in total, before sealing victory in 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Nadal first broke the Dodig serve in the fifth game, but the Croatian immediately broke back to level at 3-3. However, the Spaniard then began to find his rhythm to roll off three straight games to close out the set.
More was to follow in the second set as a series of penetrating ground-stokes from Nadal forced Dodig onto the back foot in the fourth game to secure the break, before serving out the match without any difficulties.
Nadal’s only loss in Barcelona came on his debut as a 15-year-old in 2003 when he was beaten by compatriot Alex Corretja in three sets in the second round.
His winning streak is now at 42 in a row, with Nadal losing just three sets in that spell.
Victory also took Nadal level with Arthur Ashe on 683 career wins, with Boris Becker’s mark of 713 now in his sights.
Next up for Nadal in Barcelona is a meeting with fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro after the world No. 20 overcame compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-3 to avenge his defeat in the Houston final 11 days previously.
Just one break in the eighth game was enough for Almagro to take the first set.
Both men broke toward the start of the second set, but again Almagro made his move again toward the end of the set as he broke once more to seal victory.
There was to be no such joy for another Spaniard, Tommy Robredo, though, as he succumbed to 12th seed Marin Cilic 7-5, 6-7 (7/3), 7-6 (7/5).
Cilic next faces Japanese fourth seed Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals after he eased to a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev.
Nishikori is making his first appearance of the season on clay in the Catalan capital and after struggling past Roberto Bautista Agut in three sets on Tuesday, he seemed more at ease as he equaled his best-ever run in Barcelona by reaching the last eight.
Ninth seed Ernests Gulbis also secured his place with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Albert Montanes.
The Latvian next faces Russia’s Teimuraz Gabashvili in the last eight as he continued his fine week after shocking second seed David Ferrer on Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Inigo Cervantes.
Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany meets Colombian Santiago Giraldo in the other quarter-final.
NASTASE TIRIAC TROPHY
Third seed Gaels Monfils opened his Nastase Tiriac Trophy account with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis on Thursday.
Following a first-round bye, Monfils broke Berankis four times in their first meeting to reach the quarter-finals after rain delayed the start of play for more than three hours.
With Paul-Henri Mathieu or Marius Copil next, Monfils is looking to regain his early-season form, when he won the title in Montpellier and reached the final in Doha.
Second seed Mikhail Youzhny fell in his opening match in Bucharest for a second straight year as he lost to Dutchman Robin Haase for the first time in six matches, 6-3, 6-3.
Haase next faces Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.