Barcelona - Fresh from claiming his first
title in nearly two years at the Monte Carlo Masters, Rafael Nadal can tie
Guillermo Vilas's record of 49 clay-court titles on home soil at the Barcelona
Open this week.
Nadal is a serial winner in the Catalan
capital having won the title eight times, but has slumped to shock defeats in
each of the past two years to Nicolas Almagro and Fabio Fognini.
"I had a tough season in the last few
years, but I've had better preparation this year, even with a tough start to
the season," said Nadal after lifting his 28th Masters title.
"I hope it helps my season with
confidence for the next few tournaments. I've been able to play well for two
events in a row - Indian Wells and here - winning against very tough
opponents so that is very good for my confidence."
Enigmatic Italian Fognini has been a thorn
in Nadal's side in the past two years as he has twice defeated the Spaniard on
clay and came from two sets down to beat the 14-time Grand Slam champion at the
US Open last September.
The two could meet again in the
quarter-finals as Nadal has been handed a tricky draw with compatriot David
Ferrer also potentially awaiting in the semis.
"I've been given a tough route and,
moreover, I am coming back from injury," said Fognini.
"I hope I can have a good tournament
and take advantage of some players arriving a little tired after playing in the
past few weeks."
Nadal will start against another fellow
Spaniard with the winner of Marcel Granollers and Daniel Munoz de la Navas
awaiting him in round two.
Japan's Kei Nishikori has occupied Nadal's
thrown for the past two years and the world number six is seeded second on the
other half of the draw.
Nishikori is making his debut on clay this
season having skipped Monte Carlo after reaching the final of the Miami Masters
earlier this month.
"I am happy to be back in
Barcelona," said Nishikori.
"I feel good and hope to win my third
consecutive title here."
Nishikori appears to have an easier route
to the final than Nadal as he starts against either Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker
or Sweden's Eliam Ymer with the fourth top 10 player in the field Richard
Gasquet potentially awaiting in the semi-finals.
World number eight Ferrer starts against
Santiago Giraldo or veteran Radek Stepanek, whilst Gasquet will face Malek
Jaziri or Hyeon Chung in round two.