Tennis: Rafael Nadal battles past Fabio Fognini to make Barcelona semis

Spain's player Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning against Italian player Fabio Fognini during the ATP Barcelona Open "Conde de Godo" tennis tournament in Barcelona on April 22, 2016.
Spain's player Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning against Italian player Fabio Fognini during the ATP Barcelona Open "Conde de Godo" tennis tournament in Barcelona on April 22, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA (AFP) - Rafael Nadal remained on course to match Guillermo Vilas's record of 49 clay-court titles as he reached the Barcelona Open semi-finals with a 6-2, 7-6 (7/1) win over Fabio Fognini on Friday (April 22).

Fognini had won three of the previous five meetings between the pair, including in Barcelona and at the US Open last year.

However, Nadal, who won his first tournament of the year in Monte Carlo last week, stormed into a 4-0 lead in the first set before taking it 6-2 with a third break of the Fognini serve.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion took an early 2-0 advantage in the second, but Fognini fought back to reel off four straight games and move a break in front.

Nadal broke back with Fognini serving for the set at 5-4 and the Italian had to save three match points to force a tie-break in his next service game.

Yet, Nadal wasn't made to wait much longer to seal victory in just under two hours on court as he dominated the breaker 7-1.

Through to the semis in Barcelona for the first time in three years, Nadal will face either Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov or German Philipp Kohlschreiber in Saturday's semi-finals.

Earlier, defending champion Kei Nishikori extended his winning streak in Barcelona to 13 matches as he overcame stiff first-set resistence to beat Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov 7-5, 6-0.

Nishikori had to save four set points when serving at 5-4 down in the first set, but held on before romping through the second set.

"He had a couple of set points. It was great to save them and after that I gained a bit of confidence and I was a different player," Nishikori told Spanish TV station Teledeporte.

"He is a tricky player, he has a great serve and can be really aggressive. I struggled a bit in the first set, but I was much better in the second and happy to get through today."

Nishikori will face Frenchman Benoit Paire in Saturday's semi-finals after the sixth seed overcame Tunisia's Malek Jaziri 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.