Sunday, April 19, 2015

Barcelona Open Preview

As expected, this year's Barcelona Open field is full of strong clay court players.  While Rafael Nadal is the only member of the Big Four to enter the event, there should be plenty of intrigue. 

Kei Nishikori is the top seed and defending champion, and has several clay court specialists in his section.  Santiago Giraldo is the first seed he could face, followed by Pablo Cuevas or Roberto Bautista-Agut.  While these aren't easy players to get past on clay, Nishikori is quite comfortable on the clay himself and should find his way to the semifinals.

The next quarter is led by 4th seed Marin Cilic and 6th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  However, Cilic could have to deal with Dominic Thiem in the second round, and Thiem is the pick to pull the upset.  Thiem found his form in Miami, and Cilic is still new to the comeback trail despite some good play in Monte Carlo.  Thiem should also sneak past 14th seed Martin Klizan on his way to the quarters.  Expect Thiem to face Tsonga in a powerful quarterfinal match, with the more experienced Frenchman prevailing in three sets. 

The next section features David Ferrer, and Ferrer should reach the semis without much trouble.  Ernests Gulbis is still finding ways to get seeded in tournaments, but based on current form should have to get through qualifying.  If Gulbis manages to win his first match, he won't get past Philipp Kohlschreiber in the next.  Nick Kyrgios is also a seed in this section, but is returning from an ankle injury and doesn't have much experience on clay.  He could run into David Ferrer in the round of 16, and it would be a win if he could steal a set.  Ferrer will be your semifinalist without much drama along the way.

The final quarter doesn't feature anyone who should remotely trouble second seeded Rafael Nadal.  Feliaciano Lopez, Leonardo Mayer and Fabio Fognini are the other seeds, and Nadal must be pleased with his draw.  If Nadal loses a set on his way to the semifinals it will be a surprise, and Nadal should be rested once he gets to the final four. 

In the first semifinal, expect Nishikori to get past Tsonga without too much trouble.  He holds a 4-1 lead in their head-to-head (though most of their matches have been tight), and Tsonga doesn't have much match play under his belt so far this year.  Nishikori should be a little too steady for the Frenchman and will be able to withstand Tsonga's power.

In the second semifinal, Nadal should once again top Ferrer in three sets, as he did in Monte Carlo.  Nadal is rounding back into form, and it's hard to see him losing to anyone other than Djokovic on the red clay.  Ferrer will put up a good fight as he always does, but it likely won't be enough to keep Nadal from a spot in the finals.

While Nishikori was taking it to Nadal on clay last year in Madrid before he eventually had to retire with an injury, Nadal is still the pick to take the title.  Nishikori will certainly believe he can win based on their previous encounter, but that also may have served as a wake up call for Nadal.  Nadal will be extremely hungry to take the title, and should have all the confidence he needs based on his solid run in Monte Carlo.  It's a lot to ask of Nishikori for him to find the same zone he was in during last year's Madrid match, and Nadal should be able to make any necessary adjustments to get past the rock solid Nishikori.  

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