World No 1 Andy Murray was given a good workout against Feliciano Lopez as he booked a place in the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Open with a hard-earned 6-4, 6-4 win.
Murray entered the Spanish tournament to build up match time as he continued his recovery from an elbow injury which saw him return to action last week in Monte Carlo after more than a month on the sidelines.
The 29-year-old Scot had been given a bye through to the second round and then saw Australian Bernard Tomic pull out of their scheduled contest on Wednesday because of a back problem.
The tournament’s top seed, though, eventually got the chance of another workout on clay when taking on Spaniard Lopez, who produced stubborn resistance before Murray eventually produced the required response to progress into the last eight where he will meet Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
“I was happy to play today. It was nice to get through and have another match tomorrow,” said Murray. “I didn’t feel so good at the start, but I played good tennis in some of the important moments today.”
The opening set went with serve until Murray finally made the breakthrough in game eight to lead 5-3.
However, veteran Lopez, the world No 40, refused to be brushed aside easily, saving four set points after being 40-15 down before then breaking back himself.
Murray, though, regrouped and forced an immediate break chance in game ten, which Lopez saved with an ace before the British No 1 took his next opportunity after an hour on court.
Rather than fading, 35-year-old Lopez responded as he forced four break chances against Murray’s serve in game three before the Scot recovered.
Murray’s frustrations were threatening to boil over as he squandered some five break opportunities against Lopez who levelled at 2-2.
However, Murray slowly started to deliver on his serve after moving 4-3 ahead and then to within touching distance of victory at 5-4 following successive love games.
The world No 1 then kept the pressure on Lopez, and took his second match point chance following a wide back-hand return from the Spaniard.
While Murray advanced, Dan Evans’ unlikely run came to an end with a third-round loss to fourth seed Dominic Thiem.
The British No 3, who admits he is not a fan of clay, went into the tournament looking for his first ever ATP Tour victory on the surface.
He managed two, but Thiem proved a step too far despite another good performance from Evans.
Only a tie-break separated the pair in the first set but it was Thiem who took his chances in the second to win 7-6 (7/5), 6-2.
It was revenge for the Austrian, who became Evans’ first top-ten scalp in Sydney in January.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal defeated Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals. Nadal converted a break point in each set to secure his seventh straight clay-court victory.
“It wasn’t a day where I took a lot of free points because the court was very heavy. But I was serving well, at a good speed, and changing directions well,” Nadal said. “I had the chance to hit my forehand after my serve and take control of the rallies.”
Nadal, who is a nine-time champion in Barcelona, will next face qualifier Hyeon Chung of South Korea, who defeated eighth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-1, 6-4.
The fifth-ranked Nadal is coming off his tenth title at the Monte Carlo Masters.