ATP Barcelona 2013 semi final previews – Nadal vs Raonic

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The Spanish Armada lost one of its flagships when David Ferrrer crashed out of the tournament early but has still supplied two of the four semi finalists at the Barcelona Open. The possibility of an all-Spanish final remains with Nicolas Almagro playing Philipp Kohlschreiber at 13.30 local time with Rafael Nadal against Milos Raonic following.

Nicolas Almagro (4) v Philipp Kohlschreiber(8)

This side of the draw has been relatively unaffected by the rain delays that have plagued the tournament this year. Almagro only played one match on Friday, in which he defeated Juan Monaco 6-3 7-5. Kohlschreiber resumed midway through the third set of his fourth round match with Martin Klizan and ultimately prevailed 1-6 7-6(2) 7-6(5). As his would-be quarter final opponent Tomaz Bellucci was forced to withdraw due to injury, Kohlschreiber avoided a scheduled second outing.

The pair have played seven times on tour and Almagro leads the head to head by a narrow 4-3 margin. On clay the Spaniard has the advantage 3-1, although one of these wins dates back to 2005.  In their past four matches they are tied 2-2 and all have been straight sets victories for the winner. With home advantage and excellent form in beating Monaco, Almagro’s attacking game off both wings will be difficult to stop.

Rafael Nadal (2) v Milos Raonic (5)

In contrast to the top half of the draw, both Nadal and Raonic played two full matches on Friday. Raonic took a total of five sets to see off Ernests Gulbis 6-2 7-6(6) and then local favourite Tommy Robredo 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(2). Raonic was serving exceptionally, even by his own high standards, and only faced one break point in each of his matches, remaining unbroken throughout the day.

Nadal for his part edged out a free swinging Benoit Paire in a first set tiebreak before taking the second set with greater ease for a 7-6 (2) 6-2 victory. In the afternoon he returned to play compatriot Albert Ramos and played, in his own words, “much better” for a simple 6-3 6-0 victory.

There is relatively little past history between the two with Nadal having won both previous encounters, which were both at the same tournament – Tokyo – in the round of 16. The first match was in 2010, which saw the Spaniard win 6-4 6-4, and the second came the following year with Nadal again winning in straight sets: this time 7-5 6-3. As Tokyo is held on a hard court surface, the pair have never met on clay. Raonic has made substantial advances in his play and the rankings since their last confrontation.

Raonic has impressed in Barcelona, holding his nerve well against an in-form and well-supported Robredo in the quarter final. Against Nadal he will certainly need to maintain his excellent serving form to have a chance of winning. The Canadian’s volleying skills have been superb in previous rounds and getting into the net to finish points early will be high on his list of priorities against Nadal.

Win or lose Raonic has the opportunity to measure himself against a truly formidable opponent; Nadal has the best career match record on clay in the Open Era and his only loss at this tournament was as a sixteen year-old to his current Davis Cup captain Alex Corretja. For Nadal’s part it is unlikely to have escaped his notice that Robredo was able to get a good proportion of Raonic’s first serves back in play by standing far back and looping his return. Given Nadal’s rally skills once in a point, a similar approach could well dividends.

One unknown quantity is possible tiredness for either player after playing two matches in a day. Nadal has only been back on tour since February but given his almost legendary stamina and short second match with Ramos it seems unlikely he will be affected. Raonic had a much tougher second match which did not finish until evening; his ability to recover in time to face Nadal could be an issue. Overall Nadal is overwhelming favourite; it would be by far the biggest win of Raonic’s career if he manages to score the upset and winning a set would be a considerable achievement in its own right.

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