Barcelona SF previews and picks: Nadal vs. Raonic, Almagro vs. Kohlschreiber

Rafael Nadal will continue his Barcelona campaign during semifinal action on Saturday when he faces Milos Raonic. Nicolas Almagro and Philipp Kohlschreiber are also battling for a spot in the title match.

(5) Milos Raonic vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Nadal and Raonic will be going head-to-head for the third time in their careers and for the first time on clay when they collide in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on Saturday. Both of their previous meetings have gone Nadal’s way; 6-4, 6-4 at the 2010 Japan Open and 7-5, 6-3 one season later in the very same round of the very same event.

Even though Nadal has not been overly dominant on clay this season (his best tournament from start to finish is the only one he has contested away from clay!), there is nothing favorable for Raonic about facing the Spaniard on clay. The world No. 5 finished runner-up in Vina del Mar before capturing titles in Sau Paulo, Acapulco, and Indian Wells. Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic in the Monte-Carlo final last Sunday and so far in Barcelona he has been solid but unspectacular in straight-set wins over Carlos Berlocq, Benoit Paire, and Albert Ramos.

A proven winner on faster courts, Raonic also continues to impress on the slow stuff. The 13th-ranked Canadian booked a second straight trip to the last four in Barcelona by getting past Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Ernests Gulbis, and Tommy Robredo (the latter in a third-set tiebreaker). He advanced one round in Monte-Carlo before losing to an in-form Jarkko Nieminen in a third-set ‘breaker. Overall, Raonic is 17-5 for his 2013 campaign.

The No. 5 seed has the type of game that can trouble Nadal, but he has never managed to do it and he certainly does not have a good chance of doing it on clay; especially not in Barcelona–where Nadal is a seven-time champion and 38-1 lifetime. Raonic is also coming off an extremely difficult day’s work against Gulbis and Robredo, whereas Nadal mostly rolled over Paire and Ramos on Friday. The underdog can make this relatively competitive if his booming serve is on point, but all signs point to a Nadal victory.

Pick: Nadal 6-4, 6-4


(8) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (4) Nicolas Almagro

Kohlschreiber and Almagro will be squaring off for the eighth time in their careers at the ATP level when they do battle on Saturday. Almagro leads the head-to-head series 4-3, including 3-1 on clay. They most recently faced each other last summer on the slow stuff in Hamburg, where Almagro prevailed 7-5, 7-5.

Almagro’s Golden Swing in February was largely uninspiring, but he has been solid throughout 2013. The 12th-ranked Spaniard owns a 21-8 record, which includes a quarterfinal (and near semifinal) at the Australian Open. So far in Barcelona he has defeated Ivan Dodig, Marcel Granollers, and Juan Monaco all in straight sets. Kohlschreiber has enjoyed an interesting run to the last four in which all of his matches have ended in third-set tiebreakers. The 21st-ranked German outlasted Andrey Kuznetsov and Martin Klizan (in a rain-delayed match that concluded on Friday) before getting a walkover from Thomaz Bellucci. Kohlschreiber, who was injured early in 2013, is a modest 10-7 for the year.

Everything about this one seems to be lining up nicely for Almagro. Clay is by far his best surface even though he is underrated on hard courts and grass, plus he is playing at home in Spain against an opponent whom he has fared well against in the past. The one-handed backhand exchanges should be scintillating, but Kohlschreiber will be hard-pressed to get the best of even half of those rallies. This may not be a breeze, but Almagro has a clear edge.

Pick: Almagro 7-5, 6-4

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