Rafael Nadal defeated Kay Nishikori 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open.
The 11-time tournament champion seemed ready to return to a quick victory after dominating the first set, but Nishikori responded with a fine net play to tie it at 1-1.
Nadal broke Nishikori twice in the decisive set, transforming his second match point by pushing a forehand winner along the line.
The top-ranked Nadal is still looking for his best tennis after being upset in the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo by Andrei Rublev. He needed three sets to beat 111th-placed Ilya Ivashka of Belarus in his first match in Barcelona on Wednesday.
“I didn’t play much last year, so I know I’m going to fight,” Nadal said.
“I am getting better and I am on the right track. I know the process. This does not happen overnight. ”
Nadal will face the British Cameron Nori. Nori advanced after David Goffin withdrew in the second set of his match due to injury.
Nishikori won the outdoor tournament in 2014 and 2015, when Nadal was battling injuries.
Second-placed Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Alex de Minaur 7-5, 6-3, while Rublev passed Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4.
The tournament was not held last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.