Barcelona, Spain - Japan's Kei Nishikori won his first clay match of the season returning from a three week absence due to a groin injury with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the third-round of the Barcelona Open on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old fourth-seeded Nishikori, who hadn't played since pulling out of his Miami Masters semi-final with Novak Djokovic on March 28th, said he had felt no pain during the match which he won in just under two hours against the 45th-ranked Spaniard.
“I'm very happy to win,” said Nishikori, who had prepared for the tournament by training on clay in Florida last week.
Nishikori, ranked 17th in the world, next faces Andrey Golubev after the Kazakh won when French 16th seed Benoit Paire quit late in their match trailing 6-4, 5-1.
Nishikori, whose best performance in Barcelona was reaching the quarter-finals in 2012, was pleased with the majority of his game.
“I played well in the first and third set and he was more aggressive in the second, I couldn't do anything. There was a bit of a momentum shift in the third set. it was a good win for me.”
Nishikori is accompanied this week by coach Michael Chang, whom he says is giving him confidence.
“He hasn't changed much in my clay game,” he said of the 1989 French Open.
“But he does give me a lot of information, I can learn a lot from him.”
Ninth seed Ernests Gulbis won his second-round contest over Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver 7-5, 7-6 (7/1).
Top seed and eight time Barcelona champion Rafael Nadal, who is bidding to bounce back after a rare defeat in the Monte Carlo Masters last week when compatriot David Ferrer beat him in the quarter-finals, will play Albert Ramos in the second round.
Ramos, 26 and who has never got past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament in seven attempts, disposed of experienced Russian Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 6-4 in their first round clash.
“Even if Nadal is the obvious favourite, I intend to give it my best effort,” said Barcelona-born Ramos.