World number one 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.
That set-up a rematch of last year’s finalists with world number 20 Nicolas Almagro overcoming Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-3 to avenge his defeat in the Houston final just 11 days ago.
Thirteen-time grand slam champion Nadal has been far from happy with his form in recent weeks, but after a slow start had far too much for the world number 37 as he broke four times in total before sealing victory in an hour and 23 minutes.
Nadal was happier with his performance against Dodig than in his second round outing against journeyman Albert Ramos on Wednesday.
“I had a bit more intensity in my legs today and I can go away from the court a bit calmer,” he told Spanish TV station Teledeporte.
“In the second set I began to play pretty well, so I am happy to win because Dodig is always a difficult opponent. I felt pretty good throughout the match and now I have to prepare for another difficult game tomorrow.”
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 41, 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.
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 will face Japanese fourth seed Kei Nishikori in the quarters as 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 equalled 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 will face Russia’s Teimuraz Gabashvili in the last eight after he continued his fine week after shocking second seed David Ferrer on Wednesday with a 6-4 6-2 win over Inigo Cervantes.
Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber meets Colombian Santiago Giraldo in Friday’s other quarter-final.