Rafael Nadal will square up to Nicolas Almagro in the Barcelona Open final after both Spaniards won their respective semi finals. It is the third time in a row that the title match has had an all-Spanish lineup.
In their nine previous encounters Nadal is yet to be defeated. Seven of those defeats for Almagro have been on clay and they have one previous meeting in Barcelona. This was at the 2006 tournament when they met in the semis with Nadal winning 7-6(2) 6-3.
The pair met on tour for the first time back in 2004 in Palermo and it wasn’t until their fifth meeting at the Paris Masters in 2009 that Almagro won a set. To date that is the only set that Nadal has given up to his compatriot, although they have contested three tiebreaks in total over the course of their past three matches. They have played each other four times at Grand Slam tournaments, including three clashes at Roland Garros.
Almagro’s fundamental difficulty in this matchup is that both players perform at their best on clay. All of Almagro’s 12 titles and seven runner-up finishes have come on clay and unfortunately for him it is also the surface that Nadal is widely considered the greatest player of all time on. Nadal is relatively more vulnerable to hard court specialists – for example Marin Cillic, the man directly above Almagro in the current rankings, has a win against Nadal on hard courts. Almagro is hardly alone in have a lopsided head-to-heads with Nadal on clay: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic combine for a 24-5 record, and they are the only players ever to have defeated the Mallorcan in a clay court final.
With the players’ past meetings in mind it is difficult to see how Almagro can get his hands on the Trofeo Conde de Godó on Sunday. The main factor in favour of the world number 11 is that he is definitely in top form having dispatched Philipp Kohlschreiber in the semi final 6-2 6-1 in under an hour and also achieved an excellent quarter final victory over Juan Monaco. Almagro plays an aggressive style tennis off both wings that will allow him to take the game to Nadal. His hope will be that he somehow finds the lines regularly enough to win.
“I think I played one of my best matches ever in Spain today,” said Almagro. “I felt really good all the time during the match. I’m really happy to be in my first final in Barcelona. Every match I play against Rafa is fantastic. I’m ready for everything, so we will see what I can do on court.”
For his part Nadal has come through three matches in the past two days, seeing off Benoit Paire, Albert Ramos and Milos Raonic in straight sets – although Paire did achieve a tie break in the opening set. Raonic competed well during their first set, winning 27 points to Nadal’s 30, but fell away drastically due to the excellence of Nadal’s play and, possibly, his own fatigue after a gruelling previous day.
“I think it was my best match of the whole week,” said Nadal after his semi final. “He played a fantastic second game on the return. I won the third game, which was very important for the match, because if you are 3-love down against a big server like Milos, you’re in big trouble. Almagro is playing great and having a fantastic week. Tomorrow will be the most difficult match of the week. Hopefully I can play my best match and take my chances.”
Overall it would be a seismic shock if Almagro managed to beat his Davis Cup teammate. Nadal will be doubly motivated to keep his incredible record at this tournament going after losing his Monte Carlo title last week and his form is at a level that very few players can reach.