The clay court season continues on with Barcelona as Rafael Nadal looks to bounce back from the disappointment of failing to win the Monte Carlo Masters for the third time in a row. Nadal had previously won the tournament on each of his last eight appearances, only missing out in 2010 when he withdrew with fatigue and losing to Nicolas Almagro in last year’s QF. 2014 saw Kei Nishikori pick up the title and the Japanese star will be No.1 seed this week.
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Nishikori was outstanding on Spanish clay last year, winning this event and then making the final of Madrid where he controlled the match against Nadal before his body broke down and he was forced to retire. Also defending finals points this week is Santiago Giraldo who is 15th seed this week. The Colombian looks likely to suffer a rankings fall with Nishikori looming in round three. Nishikori should see off either Teymuraz Gabashvili or Pablo Carreno Busta easily but Alexandr Dolgopolov may prove a tough opponent for Giraldo if the Ukranian can defeat Joao Sousa.
Pablo Cuevas returns to his favoured clay after going 1-2 during Miami and Indian Wells. The Uruguayan did not play Monte Carlo but is back for this event and opens against either Jan Lennard Struff or wildcard Roberto Carballes Baena. It will be the third year in a row that Baena gets a wildcard and he is winless in his first two outings. Roberto Bautista Agut will be Spain’s best hope of a quarter finalist from the top quarter of the draw. The 7th seed took Nishikori to three sets last year in Barcelona and also made the semi finals of Madrid. He will most likely open against Thomaz Bellucci. The Brazilian plays Yuichi Sugita who has never won an ATP match on clay.
Marin Cilic shook off some rust in his second tournament of the year, making the quarter finals in Monte Carlo. He was brushed aside with ease by Novak Djokovic there but did pick up a win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga can avenged the straight sets loss in the quarter finals here but will probably need to make it past two Spaniards to get that far. Marcel Granollers should be favoured to beat Marinko Matosevic to set up his opener with 9th seed Tommy Robredo next up should he outlast Joao Souza or Mikhail Kukushkin. However, Robredo had been far from stellar in South America on the clay, going just 2-3 and may be there for the taking in that match.
Cilic begins against either Dominic Thiem or Victor Estrella, the latter of which retired in his last match at Monte Carlo. Meanwhile, Thiem disappointed in his first match at the same event with a straight sets loss to Lucas Pouille. Martin Klizan comes into this tournament with a clay title this month in Casablanca but followed it up with defeat to Victor Troicki at Monte Carlo. Klizan should face Juan Monaco in round two, hoping to improve on his 0-6 4-6 loss in their only other meeting.
Four times finalist David Ferrer will like his section of the draw, given the number of wildcard and qualifier entries. The first of those to face him could be Albert Montanes, who plays Ricardas Berankis in round one. Montanes is at home on the clay, much unlike Berankis who has played sparingly on the surface in recent years. Nick Kyrgios will have the opportunity to test himself at a higher level on clay this year although either Thiemo de Bakker or Elias Ymer provide him with a far from tough beginning to his tournament. Kyrgios won two clay events back to back in April last year although they were on the green clay in America, which plays quite differently to traditional European clay.
With Ernests Gulbis terribly out of form and potentially still carrying an injury, an opportunity is there for a player to make a nice run to the quarter finals. Benoit Paire has managed to force himself back into the top 100 after falling to 149 early in the year. He will play the young qualifier Jaume Munar, who surprised Daniel Munoz de la Nava and Pedro Cachin to earn his spot in the draw. Philipp Kohlschreiber may also play a qualifier in Martin Fucsovics. Fucsovics is 1-0 against Andrey Kuznetsov whom he plays in round one, but the Russian is slightly more accomplished at the highest level. Kuznetsov and Kohlschreiber played at this event in 2013, Kohlschreiber winning a third set tiebreak.
Rafael Nadal heads the final quarter of the draw with what looks like the toughest route of any of the top four seeds to the semi final. He was outplayed by Novak Djokovic for large parts of the Monte Carlo final after a fast start and will be keen to bounce back by taking the title here.
He most likely will have to play the man who defeated him at this event last year. Nicolas Almagro would lose the semi final after but his win in the quarters ended a long losing streak. Almagro is 2-0 against Lorenzi whom he plays in round one. 2014 French Open winner Andrey Rublev plays his first ATP clay event and couldn’t have asked for a much tougher opening round opponent. The qualifier plays 2010 winner Fernando Verdasco in what will likely be a step too far but should at least give an indication of what he can expect on the surface in the year to come. Fabio Fognini awaits the winner and given that the Italian already has a clay win over Nadal this year, there is no doubt that he can take advantage should the No.2 seed be below par.
Feliciano Lopez is one of three other Spaniards in the bottom quarter of the draw and the one with the best chance of progressing to a projected quarter final with Nadal. Qualifier James Ward or Marsel Ilhan are first up, the latter of which is coming off a final on the clay in Mersin Challenger. However, it is more likely to be Leonardo Mayer who poses the first threat to the World No.12. Mayer lost their only meeting at the 2012 Australian Open but will have a much better chance this time round, assuming he sees off either Pablo Andujar or Albert Ramos.
For match previews and predictions, click Here: ATP Barcelona 2015 Tips