Rafael Nadal had his shaky moments early on Thursday but ultimately proved far too much to handle for world No. 37 Ivan Dodig, dispatching the Croat in straight sets to reach the quarterfinals at the 2014 Barcelona Open.
Fox Sports News on Twitter shared the 6-3, 6-3 scoreline:
Nadal, who will take a lot of positives away from his performance on Thursday, will have a few hours to rest up before taking on countryman Nicolas Almagro in Friday's quarterfinals, as noted by tennis writer Adeline Auger:
Nadal d. Dodig 63 63. Better performance than yesterday. Still needs to adjust things but going the right way. Tough match vs Almagro in QF.— Adeline Auger (@adel1609) April 24, 2014
After surviving an up-and-down matchup with Albert Ramos on Wednesday, in which he struggled mightily, Nadal talked about what he had to change in order to discover better form in Thursday's third round, via ATPWorldTour.com:
I need to improve everything. I'm working every day to play more aggressively. I need to find the feeling of being dominant in the points. I feel that sometimes I'm hitting balls from good positions and I'm not able to create the right spaces, to find winners. I need to try and find that for the next match.
While it didn't always look pretty early on, Nadal eventually found those spaces. Rafa earned the first break of the match in the fifth game to pull ahead 3-2. But he was unable to consolidate, struggling again with his forehand en route to getting broken right back.
Unfazed, Nadal jumped on Dodig's serve early in the very next game to set up triple break point. He would go on to break and secure the following service game to take a commanding 5-3 lead in the opening set.
With momentum seized and his confidence flowing, Nadal fought back from 15-40 to break Dodig for a third time and claim the opening set at 6-3.
The story of the first frame was Nadal's surprising success rate on his second serve and Dodig's struggles on serve. While Rafa won 6 of 8 second-serve points for the set, Dodig put just 56 percent of his first serves in play and won just 47 percent of his total service points in the set.
TennisTV on Twitter broke down Nadal's success by the numbers:
Nadal's forehand also came to life late and was a big reason why he was able to win three straight games to close it out.
The second set featured more of the same as Nadal continued to cruise, racing out to a 4-1 lead. It became more clear with every point that Nadal's power and topspin were wearing down Dodig.
Nadal served out the set at 6-3 to extend his Barcelona winning streak to 41 matches.
Rafa finished with only 15 winners, but was able to cut down on his unforced errors considerably, committing 11 just one day after recording 27 in the second round. Afterward, Nadal appeared pleased with his performance:
#Nadal (TDP): "Still have work to do but the intensity on the legs was better. I was more relaxed".— Adeline Auger (@adel1609) April 24, 2014
With two match victories under his belt, Nadal should be ultra confident heading into Friday's showdown with the sixth-seeded Almagro, whom he's 10-0 against all time. What's more, Nadal's most recent win over Almagro came in the Barcelona Open final a year ago.
Although the right-handed Spaniard and world No. 20 has been playing well on the red clay this week, he'll have a huge mental hurdle to clear on Friday as he's never beaten Nadal.
Plus, Rafa appears to be coming on strong and won't be short on motivation. While he already has eight Barcelona Open titles to his name, his hiccup in Monte Carlo last week has him fully alert on his preferred surface.
If Nadal can continue to improve on the forehand and apply pressure moving forward, there's no one left in the singles draw who can stop him from winning his ninth title in Barcelona this weekend.
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