BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Eight-time winner Rafael Nadal beat 12th-seeded Fabio Fognini 6-2, 7-6 (1) to advance to the semifinals of the Barcelona Open on Friday, avenging a loss to the Italian at the tournament last year.
The top-seeded Spaniard broke Fognini three times to take the first set but had to fight back from 4-2 down to force a tiebreaker in the second, which Nadal won when Fognini's poorly hit return went wide.
Nadal faces his first semifinal on Barcelona's outdoor clay court since he won his eighth title in 2013. He plays 10th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber on Saturday after the German brushed aside Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3, 6-1.
Also, two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori overcame a lackluster start to beat 11th-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 7-5, 6-0.
The second-seeded Japanese will face Benoit Paire in Saturday's other semifinal.
Nadal was upset here last year by Fognini in straight sets in the round of 16. Fognini then beat the former No. 1 in five sets at the U.S. Open.
Nadal is hoping to put aside a poor run from the last 18 months as he closes in on another final — just a week after winning his ninth title at Monte Carlo.
The fifth-ranked Nadal said that the difference this year was his improved ability to remain confident when matches turned against him.
"If this had happened last year, it might not have been a drama, but it would have caused an attack of nerves," Nadal said. "I am still angry I wasn't able to go up 3-0 (in the second set). At that moment I knew anything could happen."
Nadal was leading 2-0 in the second set, with Fognini appearing bothered by a right shoulder that he twice asked a doctor to massage between points.
But that was when Fognini started to play his best, and it took home favorite Nadal time to turn around the set.
Fognini, however, still wasn't done. Nadal was set to close out the match with a break of serve after going ahead 40-0. But Fognini combined drop shots with two forehand winners to force the tiebreaker, which Nadal went on to dominate.
Earlier Friday, Nishikori saved four set points before holding on to claim the first set from Dolgopolov.
"I struggled a little in the first set, but I played well in the second," Nishikori said. "(After the set points) I was a different player."
Dolgopolov got sloppy in the second set, making 32 unforced errors to Nishikori's 16.
The sixth-seeded Paire came from behind to beat Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in an erratic performance that saw the Frenchman hit six aces and six double-faults.