Rafael Nadal held off Jan-Lennard Struff 7-5, 7-5 in the Barcelona Open quarter-finals on Friday to move closer to setting an ATP record as the first player to win the same event 12 times.
Nadal must first get through a Saturday semi-final between 2017 finalist Dominic Thiem, who crushed Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-2.
Nadal took an hour and three quarters to overcome Struff in their first meeting.
“It’s difficult to face someone for the first time,” Spain’s 17-time Grand Slam champion said.
“It was important that my serve was solid today. I’m feeling better in my game and hope to keep improving here at home.”
Nadal is regaining his swagger after losing last weekend in the Monte Carlo semis to Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
Nadal stands a perfect 11-0 in Barcelona semi-finals.
“I’ve played two good matches here after my first,” he said, “The confidence is growing – and victories certainly help.
“I was able to find a way to win, my game is coming together now. I’m happy for today’s match.”
Japan’s two-time champion Kei Nishikori won a slugfest with Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 7-5 to move into a Barcelona semi for a fourth time.
Nishikori will take on Russian Daniil Medvedev on Saturday after the seventh seed stopped lucky loser Nicolas Jarry of Chile 6-3, 6-4.
Nishikori, the winner in 2014 and 2015, served out for victory after his 104th-ranked opponent slipped in the penultimate game and appeared to strain a right thigh muscle. (Agence France-Presse)