The European clay courts season started on April 10 with the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters 1000 won by Stefanos Tsitsipas in a symbolic change of guards. The train has berthed for the next leg in Barcelona Spain for the Banc Sabadell Open staged at the Real Tennis Club.

While many of the world’s top 20 players were in the Principality of Monaco, there are fewer in Barcelona for the 500-point event.

World number one Novak Djokovic skipped the event, as did reigning champion Dominic Thiem of Austria. The home favourite and 11-time champion, Rafael Nadal, leads the draw in which he will contend with the persistent challenge of the younger generation.

However, he is spared an early danger of his nemesis in Monaco, the ruthless Andre Rublev, who is in the lower half of the draw.

In the epic match of opening day, former champion Kei Nishikori recovered from losing the first set to prevail over Guido Pella of Argentina 4/6, 7/6 (4). Pella served for the match in the 12th game of the second set but conceded the crucial break. Nishikori was 0-3 in the tie breaker but after escaping the close call, he raced to a 3-0 lead in the third set before Pella broke his opponent’s serve to register on the score board.

After successive service holds by the two players, Pella fell behind 0-30 in the seventh game and conceded the break. Serving for the match, Nishikori lost the first point but leveled with an ace. An easy volley winner took him to 30-15 and another ace gave him two match points at 40-15. After a short exchange of shots, Pella missed an attempted drop shot to lose the match.

In other matches, Spain’s Pablo Andujar prevailed over France’s Gilles Simon 6/1, 3/6, 6/3, and the veteran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had no stamina in the second set as he lost to Egor Gerasimov 7/5, 6/1 on Pista Rafa Nadal.

Jeremy Chardy of France clinched the day’s marathon with a 6/4, 3/6, 6/3 victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.

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