Despite all the withdrawals and upsets, the home Spanish fans should be happy this week in Madrid. Last month Barcelona didn’t go their way but things in the Spanish capital appear to be more to their liking.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Roberto Bautista Agut and Feliciano Lopez all reached the quarterfinals today, and it looks like all four Spaniards will march on to the weekend.
Nadal wasn’t at his lethal best today but well good enough to get past Jarkko Nieminen 6-1, 6-4. And he’s the heavy favorite to walk away with the title this Sunday.
“During the first hour I played better than yesterday, more dynamically and with more intensity,” said Nadal. “I knew what I was doing with every ball with no surprises. I was defending properly and knowing what was happening in every single moment. Perhaps that’s something I wasn’t able to do in recent weeks.
“The negative thing is in the match I had an opportunity to close it out with great feelings and I made a few mistakes in a row. That made the match more complicated. I gave the opportunity to Jarkko to play more aggressive and with more determination.”
Nadal, who has stunningly lost the last two times he’s played on a Friday, meets with Tomas Berdcyh in a rematch of their Miami semifinal that never happened. The big, burly Czech blasted Grigor Dimitrov in the final set to win going away 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.
Rafa leads Tomas 17-3 and despite Rafa’s setbacks last month, that’s good enough for me.
“He’s a very dangerous player on every single surface,” said Nadal of Berdych. “Here even more with the altitude. The ball flies very fast and his serve is very difficult to break. My goal is to try to be aggressive. I know that to play against him I can’t leave many spaces on the court. If he strikes the ball in comfortable positions, I’m nearly dead, because he has a really high ball speed.”
In the other quarters, Ferrer, who was real sharp in a 6-4, 6-4 win over John Isner, meets the white hot Ernests Gulbis. After going MIA for a while the Latvian has re-emerged putting together three nice wins already this week. While Ferrer’s the favorite, I give Ernests a chance.
Much wasn’t thought of Bautista Agut’s win over Juan Martin Del Potro back in January, but the Spaniard is really turning into quite a player. The 26-year-old is quietly up to 45 in the rankings and at the rate he’s rising he’ll get seeded at the French. After beating Kubot today I think he continues on to the semis by taking out Santiago Giraldo who was a mild upset winner over a sluggish Andy Murray.
In the final quarter, Feliciano Lopez earned a walkover when phenom Dominic Thiem withdrew due to an illness. He’ll play Barcelona champ Kei Nishikori, an impressive victor over Milos Raonic.
“He’s a complicated player,” said Lopez of the Japanese No. 1. “He’s very fast. He returns the ball very well. He comes from a moment where he has a lot of confidence. He has won Barcelona, which is a really good test on clay. Only great players can win there on clay.”
I like Nishikori, but the altitude will help Lopez’s serve.
As for the 20-year-old Thiem, for my money I rate him the very best of the “Under 23″ bunch. In a few years he won’t just be beating guys like Stan Wawrinka, he’ll be collecting titles, titles at events bigger than Madrid.
The women’s quarters are also set, and it’s better than the men’s (half remaining are French Open champs). Serena Williams will meet Petra Kvitova; Simona Halep faces Ana Ivanovic; streaking Caroline Garcia takes on Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova battles Li Na in arguably the best match of the day. All four matches – yes, even Serena – could go any way.
Tennis Channel has live coverage all day starting at 5am ET.
FRIDAY MADRID QUARTERFINALS SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 11:00 am
WTA –  S Williams (USA) vs  P Kvitova (CZE)
WTA –  M Sharapova (RUS) vs  N Li (CHN)
Not Before 3:30 pm
ATP –  R Nadal (ESP) vs  T Berdych (CZE)
ATP – R Bautista Agut (ESP) vs [Q] S Giraldo (COL)
Not Before 8:00 pm
ATP –  D Ferrer (ESP) vs E Gulbis (LAT)
ATP –  K Nishikori (JPN) vs F Lopez (ESP)
ARANTXA SANCHEZ VICARIO not before 3:00 pm
WTA –  S Halep (ROU) vs  A Ivanovic (SRB)
WTA – [Q] C Garcia (FRA) vs  A Radwanska (POL)
ATP –  D Marrero (ESP) / F Verdasco (ESP) vs  R Bopanna (IND) / A Qureshi (PAK)
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