So far so good for Rafael Nadal. After a dismal start to the 2016 season, Nadal has picked up his game just as the tour turned to the European red clay. Imagine that!
He won Monte Carlo and is now backing up it impressively this week in Barcelona. The field isn’t anywhere near as strong as Monaco, but Nadal’s got two pretty good wins the last two days beating Fabio Fognini and this afternoon Phil Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-3 to reach the finals.
“It was my worst match of the week, I hit many unforced errors with my backhand today. It’s fantastic that I made it to the final,” said Nadal.
Tomorrow, he’ll seek a ninth tournament title against 2-time defending champion Kei Nishikori in what should be a heck of a matchup.
Nishikori won his 14th straight match at the event beating Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-2. But he’s never played someone like Nadal (or anyone in the Top 15) during this three-year reign in Spain.
Nishikori did nearly beat Rafa in Madrid in 2014, and were it not for a back injury he would have. They’ve played twice since with Nishikori finally winning last summer in Canada while Rafa got back on top last month in Indian Wells, a win that did wonders for Nadal’s confidence I think.
Overall, it’s 8-1 in favor of Nadal. But this won’t be easy, and Rafa knows it.
“Tomorrow I will play against one of the world’s best players and it will be complicated,” said Nadal. “I have to play a great match to win the final.”
What interesting is if you could time warp from four years to today and see the results this month, you would just assume Nadal is still Nadal and tomorrow’s final was a foregone conclusion.
But Nadal is not Nadal. He’s playing better, but he’s nowhere near his vintage self, and that’s not lost on his opposition. Yes, the scores look impressive, but that dominant game still isn’t there, and might never return.
That said, even though he wasn’t pleased with his performance today, I like Rafa’s momentum right now and I think he’ll ride it to victory tomorrow. To do it, he’ll have to serve well and rip that forehand, otherwise Nishikori will punish him and get him moving from side-to-side.
The pick: Nadal in three
To me, this almost feels like a bigger match than Monte Carlo where we weren’t 100% sure where Nadal was at.
Now there’s expectation. The buzz is starting to come back. Now Nadal’s on his surface, in his country, on a court he’s won eight titles on and he’s favored against a Top 10 foe who’s been playing awfully well at this event. This is no Gael Monfils. This is pressure. Let’s see how he handles it.
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