After closing out a confidence-boosting win over Cameron Norrie in two sets, 11-time champion Rafael Nadal had just two words for his team at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell: “Pista 2!”

Nadal wrapped up his first straight-sets victory of the week in an hour and 35 minutes, and then went directly from his namesake Centre Court to the practice courts of the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona-1899 to continue the hard work.

“I went to the practice court to loosen up the arms,” Nadal explained in his post-match press conference. “The match was a little bit shorter today. I’m in the process of trying to improve and working hard daily to try to find the level that I want as soon as possible…

“I just wanted to pinpoint a few things after the match to work on. It’s not the first time or the fifth time that I do this, I’ve [gone straight to the practice court] many times in the past. It’s nothing new, I’m just trying to find the things that can help me be a little bit better tomorrow.”

Coming into his quarter-final clash against Norrie, Nadal’s level had raised some alarm bells among Spanish tennis fans as he dropped a set in each of his previous matches in Barcelona. He was taken the distance against Ilya Ivashka and two-time Barcelona champion Kei Nishikori – a rare occurrence on the Spaniard’s happiest hunting ground. 

Nadal has lifted the Trofeo de Godo 11 times, and had not previously dropped more than one set en route to any of his record Barcelona titles. In fact, he won the title without losing a set on nine occasions.

He was under pressure on Friday again, as Norrie broke his serve late in the second set to bring them to 4-4, threatening to force another three-setter. But this time, Nadal responded emphatically with a break back to love to seal his 13th semi-final berth in Barcelona.

It is also Nadal’s first semi-final of the year, after reaching the quarter-finals at each of his previous events at the Australian Open (l. Tsitsipas) and Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (l. Rublev).

“I’m in [the] semi-finals, that’s the thing today. I’ve been able to [advance] to that round for the first time this year, so that’s a positive news for me,” Nadal said. “I’m happy with the way I was able to improve every single day. Now is the moment to keep improving if I want to have chances against a tough opponent.

“I take every day as a positive thing, and today was a straight-sets win. For moments I played at a high level, and for moments I think I can do better. But it’s a process, and I accept the challenge and I accept the process.”

Nadal will next face sixth-seeded countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, who lifted the trophy in Marbella earlier in the month, for a spot in the championship match.