Rafael Nadal dispatched Kei Nishikori 6-4 7-5 to once again win the title in Barcelona. The Spanish #1 is in great form having returned to red clay, and he’s proving himself as a resilient star on the ATP tour. The top seed beat Marcel Granollers, Albert Montanes, Fabio Fognini, and Philipp Kohlschreiber, along with Nishikori without dropping a set this week, and he’s playing like a buzzsaw on the clay.
Nishikori reached his second straight final with wins over Thiemo De Bakker, Jeremy Chardy, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Benoit Paire, all without dropping a set. He’s been great in Barcelona, and has 19 wins compared to four losses on clay over the last two seasons.
The Bryan brothers beat Pablo Cuevas and Marcel Granollers for the doubles title, a big win for the veteran team.
Fernando Verdasco won his first ATP title in two years with a Monday victory in Bucharest over Lucas Pouille. Pouille was playing in his first career ATP final after defeating Dusan Lajovic, Ivo Karlovic, Paolo Lorenzi, and Federico Delbonis. He beat Lorenzi after dropping the first set.
Verdasco struggled for a win against Aldin Setkic, but found momentum to defeat Radu Albot, Robin Haase, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to reach the final. He’s back into the top 60, and could use more wins to get his game back to a Grand Slam level .
2016 ATP Barcelona Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The European spring clay court season continues with the first ATP World Tour stop in Spain. The Barcelona Open is a 500 level tournament, and a lot of intriguing talents are taking part.
Barcelona Open BancSabadell
ATP World Tour 500
April 18-24, 2016
Prize Money: €2,152,690
Top 8 seeds (top 16 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (5)
2: Kei Nishikori (6)
3: David Ferrer (8)
4: Richard Gasquet (10)
5: Roberto Bautista Agut (17)
6: Benoit Paire (22)
7: Feliciano Lopez (23)
8: Viktor Troicki (24)
Barcelona has nearly half of the ATP top 10, and a good variety of well known players, making this a solid 500 level stop. Most of the first rounders are not likely to be competitive, or interesting.
Recent Monte Carlo champion, and x8 Barcelona champion Rafael Nadal should breeze through his first few rounds. The seed in his section is Joao Sousa, who is average at best on clay. Rafa should open with Monte Carlo quarterfinalist Marcel Granollers, presuming Granollers can dispatch Daniel Munoz De La Nava. After that, it could be Sousa, or Casablanca semifinalist Albert Montanes, another fading Spanish veteran. Montanes opens with Roberto Carballes Baena, who is primarily a challenger player. I have Montanes slipping past Sousa, before falling to Nadal for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Fabio Fognini and Viktor Troicki are the seeds below Rafa, Fognini was poor in Monte Carlo after a few weeks off of the tour, but he’s still a talented, and accomplished clay courter. Fognini should dispatch either Rajeev Ram, or veteran Mikhail Youzhny in his first match. Both are poor on clay, and don’t have games suited for the surface. Viktor Troicki also suffered an opening round loss in Monte Carlo, but he’s had some success on clay, and that should continue against either Ernests Gulbis, or Marton Fuscovics in round 2. Gulbis is on a three match losing streak, while Fuscovics is playing his first ATP match of the season, after going 0-2 last year on the main tour. This section features many underachievers in recent months. I have Troicki defeating Fognini for a quarterfinal spot. They have a split 2-2 h2h.
David Ferrer has multiple finals in Barcelona, but has never won a title at this tournament. The Spaniard pulled out of Monte Carlo with an injury, but he should be fit enough to slip past either Santiago Giraldo, or qualifier Radek Stepanek in his opening match. Giraldo is slightly better on clay than Stepanek, but Ferrer outclasses both players. Andrey Kuznetsov lost his opening Monte Carlo contest, but he’s had a career year thus far, and should get past either Franko Skugor, or Inigo Cervantes to setup a meeting with Ferrer in round 3. Skugor, a doubles specialist, has qualified for three ATP singles main draws already this year. Kuznetsov upsetting Ferrer would not surprise me at all, given David has been in decline as of late, but I have to go with Ferrer to reach the quarterfinals. Kuznetsov upset Ferrer at Wimbledon.
Both Feliciano Lopez, and Philipp Kohlschreiber are capable of having a good run in their section. Lopez will face qualifier Pedro Cachin, or Ivan Dodig, while Kohlschreiber is likely to face Pablo Carreno Busta, unless Denis Istomin spoils that interesting matchup. The Casablanca quarterfinalist is a possible dark horse, but Kohli should be good enough on clay to advance. Cachin is playing his first ATP match of the season, and Lopez should face Kohlschreiber in round 3. He recently made the semifinals in Houston. Kohli and Lopez have split h2h meetings on clay, I have Kohlschreiber reaching the quarterfinals given the surface.
Kei Nishikori has won back to back Barcelona Open titles, and he’s in a section that should result in a good start to his quest for at third Barcelona title. After a 15-3 record on clay last year, Nishikori recently reached the final in Miami as well. Neither Thiemo De Bakker, or recent challenger champion Elias Ymer are capable of challenging him in round 2. Both Mikhail Kukushkin and Victor Estrella have been dire as of late, and that means power hitter Jeremy Chardy should advance to face Nishikori in round 3. Chardy is 2-0 against Nishikori on clay, but I have to pick Kei to reach the quarters.
Roberto Bautista Agut continued his good season with a pair of wins in Monte Carlo. RBA will face either Aljaz Bedene, or the rising Karen Khachanov, a qualifier, in round 2. After that, he should face the dangerous, but inconsistent, Alexandr Dolgopolov in round 3. Dolgo will face either Facundo Bagnis or Evgeny Donskoy in round 2. Bagnis, a solid clay courter, upsetting Dolgopolov would not surprise me. The Ukrainian is known to be shaky on the surface. RBA should prevail against either Dolgo or Bagnis to reach the quarters.
Richard Gasquet would like to have a strong showing, and given his section, he should be able to get some momentum going on clay. The #4 seed exited in his second match in Monte Carlo, but should find more success against Malek Jaziri, or Hyeon Chung. The young Korean recently reached the quarterfinals in Houston. Thomaz Bellucci, a loser of five straight, is the other seed in this section, but all eyes will be on the young gun Alexander Zverev. Zverev should defeat fellow German J.L. Struff, a strong qualifier, in round 1, and then force Bellucci to crumble once more for a third round spot. Zverev is a serious threat to Gasquet, but assuming the Frenchman is healthy, I have him in the quarterfinals.
Benoit Paire snapped a losing skid and won a pair of matches in Monte Carlo, where he also posed a threat to Andy Murray. His showing on the clay there was the first signs of life from the scattered Frenchman in weeks. With Nicolas Almagro, his likely round 2 opponent, struggling, Paire should reach round 3. Almagro opens with Teymuraz Gabashvili, who is in total freefall right now. Defending finalist Albert Ramos will face off with Spanish young gun Jaume Munar in round 1. Ramos has lost three straight, but he should defeat Munar, before falling to Pablo Cuevas, the best player in this section on clay. Cuevas 12-2 clay court record should move to at least 14-2 on the season when he reaches the quarterfinals.
Zverev has the skill, and the draw, to at least reach the third round, and if he upsets Gasquet, he could go as far as the semifinals. This young German prospect has come into his own on all surfaces, and he’s the player to watch at the Barcelona Open.
Nadal d. Troicki
Ferrer d. Kohlschreiber
Cuevas d. Gasquet
Nishikori d. Bautista Agut
Nadal and Ferrer have dominated their respective h2h records in the possible quarterfinal matchups. Cuevas should be slightly better than Gasquet, and Nishikori has a stronger skillset than RBA, that has lead to a 4-0 h2h.
Nadal d. Ferrer
Nishikori d. Cuevas
Nishikori likely proves too fast, and too skilled for Cuevas, Nadal has won three straight vs. Ferrer, and is simply a much better player than he is right now.
Nadal d. Nishikori
On a hard court, I’d be more tempted to pick Nisihkori, but after Rafa’s strong showing on clay in Monte Carlo, I have to think he’ll get back in the winners circle in Barcelona. This would be a great final, and would move Nadal to 3-0 on clay against Nishikori.
The last time a qualifier reached the last eight of the Barcelona Open was Stan Wawrinka at the 2005 tournament. Since then, many have tried and all of them have failed. Spearheading this year’s bid for the qualifiers will be the two highest ranked players from the qualifying draw.
German top seed, Jan Lennard-Struff, booked his place in the main draw without dropping a set. The world No.115 kicked-off his clay court season at last week’s Napoli Challenger where he suffered a shock first round loss to world No.325 Gianluca Mager. Struff recovered from his Italian disappointment by dismissing Spanish wildcard Pedro Martinez Portero in his first match at Barcelona. Awaiting him in the second round was French 11th seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin, a player who he has lost to twice in 2015. Struff ensured that he wouldn’t succumb to a trio of defeats to the Frenchman by winning 7-6(5), 6-2. During his Barcelona triumph against Roger-Vasselin, Struff won 81% of his first service points (25/31).
Following the top seed into the Barcelona main draw will be Russian second seed Karen Khachanov. Earlier this month, the 19-year-old reached a career ranking high of 135th and has already reached a Challenger final this year in Jonkoping, Sweden. Khachanov’s route to the main draw was one of the toughest. After seeing off India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan in three sets, he faced clay court specialist Marco Trungelliti. Aided by seven aces in the match, Khachanov required two hours and 20 minutes to defeat the Argentine 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), to reach his first ATP main draw since Chennai.
Czech veteran Radek Stepanek eased his way into the Barcelona main draw. The 37-year-old produced back-to-back straight sets wins over wildcard Gerard Granollers and former French Open boys’ champion Christian Garin. Stepanek has enjoyed success in Barcelona during his career. In 2005 he reached the semifinals of the tournament before losing to Rafael Nadal. This year will be his eighth appearance in the main draw of the event.
The lowest ranked player to triumph in the two rounds of qualifying was Argentine world No.245 Pedro Cachin. Notching up only two main draw victories in 2016, the 21-year-old stunned third seed, Jozef Kovalik, 6-4, 7-5, in the first round. The unexpected win set Cachin up with a meeting against 10th seed Pedja Krstin, a player who won his maiden Challenger title on Mexican clay earlier this year. The Serbian was no match for Cachin, who won 79% of his service points to defeat Krstin 6-1, 6-2, in exactly an hour to reach his first ATP main draw.
Franko Skugor demolished his first round opponent to set up a showdown against Renzo Olivo. The sixth seed required only 49 minutes to race past France’s Yannick Jankovits (6-0, 6-2). Facing Olivo in the second round, the world No.148 encountered a much more testing match. After failing to save one out of only two break points he faced during the match, Skugor dropped the second set before taking the match in three sets – 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. Barcelona will be his fourth appearance in an ATP main draw this year.
The final qualifier was Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, who coincidentally reaches his first main draw on the ATP Tour since his appearance at last year’s Barcelona tournament. His qualifying campaign began with a marathon match against Andrey Rublev, which lasted six minutes shy of the three-hour mark. Fucsovics had three match points in the second set, but failed to convert any of them. Saving 13/15 break points throughout the match, the Hungarian clinched the win 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-3. In his final qualifying match, the Hungarian recovered from a second set blip to win 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, against Spain’s Jordi Samper-Montaña.
First round matches
Q Marton Fucsovics HUN Vs Ernests Gulbis LAT
Q Radek Stepanek Vs Santiago Giraldo
Q Franko Skugor Vs Inigo Cervantes ESP
Q Pedro Cachin ARG Vs Ivan Dodig CRO
Q Jan-Lennard Struff GER Vs Alexander Zverev GER
Q Karen Khachanov RUS Vs Aljaz Bedene GBR
Michael Linzer will play in his first ATP main draw after causing the biggest upset of the qualifying draw at the BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy in Bucharest, Romania.
The 26-year-old, who has won five Futures titles on clay last year, recovered from a set down to stun Bosnian top seed Mirza Basic in the opening round of qualifying. Ranked almost 140 places below Basic, Linzer clinched the two-and-a-half-hour match, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-4. He also endured a close second round match against Farrukh Dustov, a player who is yet to win back-to-back matches in a tournament this year. Dustov continued this disappointing trend after Linzer took the match 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-4, to reach the main draw in Bucharest. The win elevates the Austrian to 266th in the world, 30 players below his 2012 career high. Since 2010, Linzer has won 16 Futures titles on clay.
Bosnian tennis fans still had something to cheer about after Aldin Setkic stunned second seed Maximo Gonzalez 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-1, in the final round of qualifying. Setkic saved 11/16 break points and won 57% of his first service points to seal the big win. The win over the world No.135 isn’t the biggest victory for the Bosnian. Last year he defeated world No.114 Dustin Brown at a Challenger tournament. Similar to Linzer, the 28-year-old will now play in his maiden ATP main draw.
The highest ranked player to successfully qualify was third seed Radu Albot. The Moldovan started his qualifying bid with a 6-4, 6-2, win over French wildcard Florian Valsot. The win took him to a second round meeting with German fifth seed Tobias Kamke. Converting 4/6 break points and 58% of service points, Albot claimed the win 6-4, 6-2. Albot, who reached a ranking high of 85th last year, will be hoping to end his run of first round losses. In three out of his four previous tournaments, the 26-year-old has fallen at the first hurdle.
The fourth and final qualifier is Italy’s Andrea Arnaboldi. The world No.171 has only managed to win three main draw matches this year with his best performance being a quarter-finalist at the Jonkoping Challenger in Sweden. He will now have a chance of increasing his winning number after defeating compatriot Federico Gaio 6-1, 6-4, without dropping serve.
First round matches
Q Michael Linzer AUT Vs Robin Haase NDL
Q Aldin Setkic BOS Vs Fernando Verdasco ESP
Q Radu Albot MOL Vs (8) Paul-Henri Mathieu FRA
Q Andrea Arnaboldi ITA Vs Taro Daniel JPA