Nishikori: I Always Have A Chance Against Rafa
But, away from the spotlight, two-time champion Kei Nishikori of Japan will look to start a winning streak of his own during his return to the clay-court event.
Nishikori missed Barcelona last year because of a right wrist injury. But, a year prior, he had won 14 consecutive matches in the Spanish city, including back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015. His run ended in the 2016 final against Nadal.
Watch: Nishikori Looks Forward To Barcelona Return
The two played again on Sunday during the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final, which Nadal won in straight sets, his 10th victory from 12 FedEx ATP Head2Head matchups.
Nishikori's two wins against Nadal came on hard (2015 Montreal, 2016 Rio Olympics), but the Japanese right-hander has pushed Nadal on clay. During the 2014 Mutua Madrid Open final, Nishikori was leading by a set and a break before having to retire down 6-2, 4-6, 0-3.
“It was really tough to play Rafa last week, because he was playing great tennis, very heavy. He's on fire right now. But I try to win one match at a time and try to enjoy the big challenge against Rafa,” Nishikori said on Tuesday in Barcelona.
“I always enjoy playing Rafa, especially on clay, he is the best in history. I have to enjoy playing Rafa. I beat him before, only twice, but I beat him before so I think there is always a small chance.”
The two could meet in the third round in Barcelona, if No. 1 Nadal beats countryman and Ecuador Open champion Roberto Carballes Baena, and Nishikori takes care of Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Thirteen Spaniards reached the main draw.
For Nishikori, though, his focus remains on improving little by little after right wrist surgery forced him to miss the final four months of the 2017 season. The 28-year-old returned to tour-level action in February at the New York Open and posted his best result of the year in Monte-Carlo.
“My first goal is to come back to the Top 10. Last week gave me a lot of confidence,” Nishikori said. “It was a great week… Since injury, it was the best week so far, so I am very happy and proud. This tournament, it's always my favourite and I hope I can do well but, it's always been a really tough tournament. [I will] try to play one match at a time and hope I can do well this week.”