Fresh from winning a record ninth Monte Carlo Masters, Rafael Nadal continued his fine form with a 6-3, 6-2 win over fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers to reach the third round of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday.
Nadal is looking to equal Argentine legend Guillermo Vilas’s record of 49 clay-court tournament wins and capture a ninth title in the Catalan capital this week after suffering shock defeats in the past two years.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion was rarely troubled despite losing his serve in the opening game as he fought back to move into a 4-1 lead and sealed victory after just over 90 minutes on court to improve his head-to-head record over Granollers to 4-0.
“The start was very difficult because it was very windy,” said Nadal.
“I started with less depth than I wanted, but it was very important to break back straight away and from that point on it was more straightforward.”
Nadal will face another Spaniard in Albert Montanes in the last 16 on Thursday.
“I have been playing very well in Monte Carlo, but this is a new tournament and every day there is a difficult opponent.”
Defending champion Kei Nishikori is likely to be Nadal’s biggest threat and the Japanese extended his unbeaten run in Barcelona to 11 matches with a comfortable 6-4, 6-2 win over the Netherlands’ Thiemo de Bakker.
Nishikori needed just over an hour to dispose of the world number 102 as he broke in the first game of each set and held serve throughout to win his first match of the season on clay.
The world number six, who also won the title in 2014, will face French 13th seed Jeremy Chardy in the next round.
Nadal could face his conqueror from last year’s US Open, Italian Fabio Fognini, in the quarter-finals after he won just his fourth match of the season 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 against Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny.
German teenage sensation Alexander Zverev is also into the third round after edging past 15th seed Thomaz Bellucci 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-5.