BARCELONA: Rafael Nadal admitted he is controlling the nerves that clouded his 2015 season better after seeing off a second set fightback from Fabio Fognini to reach the Barcelona Open semi-finals with a 6-2, 7-6 (7/1) win on Friday.
Fognini had won three of the previous five meetings between the pair, including in Barcelona and at the US Open last year.
And the Italian looked set to take the match to a deciding set as he reeled off four straight games to move from 2-0 down to 4-2 up in the second set.
“Honestly, if that had happened last year it could have provoked a flurry of nerves,” added Nadal.
“This year things are a little different, I am accepting every situation and I don’t have the feeling of being constantly nervous.”
However, Nadal, who won his first tournament of the year in Monte Carlo last week, broke back when Fognini was serving for the set at 5-4.
And despite some brilliant play by the Italian to fend off three match points in his next service game, Nadal dominated the tie-break 7-1 to reach his first semi-final in Barcelona for three years.
“You can be dominating the point, but because he is so quick you are always under pressure because you feel at any moment he can change the dynamic of the point,” added Nadal.
Victory also keeps Nadal on course to match Argentine legend Guillermo Vilas’s record of 49 clay-court titles in Sunday’s final.
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 resistance 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. AFP