Kei, Rafa through in Barcelona

Kei Nishikori eased into the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Open with a handsome 6-0 6-4 success against Kazakstan's Andrey Golubev.

The Japanese star, who is back from a left-groin injury after pulling out of the semi-finals of the Sony Open in Miami last month, was making his first appearance of the season on clay in the Catalan capital.

And after struggling past Roberto Bautista Agut in three sets on Tuesday, the fourth seed seemed more at ease as he equalled his best-ever run in Barcelona by reaching the last eight.

The world No 17 is likely to face a tougher task on Friday, though, when he faces Marin Cilic for a place in the semi-finals.

The 12th seed beat Spaniard Tommy Robredo 7-5 6-7 (7/3) 7-6 (7/5) in a tight encounter.

Ninth seed Ernests Gulbis also secured his place in he quarters with a straight sets 7-5 6-1 win over Albert Montanes.

The Latvian will face Russia's Teimuraz Gabashvili in the last eight after he continued his fine week after shocking second seed David Ferrer on Wednesday with a 6-4 6-2 win over Inigo Cervantes.


Also through is Nicolas Almagro, who avenged his defeat in the Houston final 11 days ago with a straight sets 6-3 6-3 win over Fernando Verdasco.

The world number 20 broke his fellow Spaniard in the eighth game to take the first set, before both players broke early in the second set. Almagro then broke once more to seal victory and set up a quarter-final clash with another compatriot, Rafael Nadal.

The top seed rounded out Thursday's action with a 6-3 6-3 triumph over Croatia's Ivan Dodig that took him one hour and 23 minutes to complete.

It means Nadal and Almagro will meet in a repeat of last year's final of the event, with the former now beginning to find some form after an earlier-than-expected exit in Monte Carlo and a scrappy opening win in Barcelona.

"There's still some work to do but I definitely took a step forward from yesterday. I move on feeling more assured," the world no 1 - who needed nearly two hours to see off Albert Ramos on Wednesday - said. "I needed this game."