Barcelona QF previews and picks: Nadal vs. Almagro, Nishikori vs. Cilic

Nadal MondayA rematch of last year’s final is on the docket for Friday in Barcelona, where Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Almagro will do battle in the quarterfinals. Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic are also in action.

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (6) Nicolas Almagro

Nadal and Almagro will be going head-to-head for the 11th time in their careers when they clash in the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on Friday afternoon. The head-to-head series stands at a perfect 10-0 in favor of Nadal, who has won eight of those matches on clay. The two Spaniards most recently met on two occasions last year, with Nadal prevailing 7-5, 6-4 in Acapulco and 6-4, 6-3 in the title match of this same Barcelona event.

An eight-time champion at this tournament, Nadal advanced to the quarters with straight-set scalps of Albert Ramos and Ivan Dodig. The world No. 1 may not be at his very best after losing to David Ferrer in the Monte-Carlo quarterfinals, but he at least looked better against Dodig on Thursday. Almagro avenged a loss in this month’s Houston final by beating Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-3 in the third round. That was preceded by a straight-set victory over Martin Klizan for the No. 6 seed, who is now 12-6 for his 2014 campaign. This may not be a complete rout with Nadal looking somewhat vulnerable, but Almagro is 2-24 lifetime in total sets against the favorite.

Pick: Nadal in 2 losing 8 games or fewer

(12) Marin Cilic vs. (4) Kei Nishikori

Nishikori and Cilic will be squaring off for the seventh time in their careers on Friday. The head-to-head series stands at 4-2 in Nishikori’s favor, but they have never faced each other on clay (all six of their previous encounters have come on hard courts). They most recently collided to begin this season in Brisbane, where Nishikori scored a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 victory.

Cilic advanced on Thursday by winning a 7-5, 6-7(3), 7-6(5) thriller against Tommy Robredo that required two hours and 46 minutes to be completed. The 27th-ranked Croat, who opened with a straight-set defeat of Andrey Kuznetsov, is now 25-7 for the season. Nishikori booked his spot in the last eight with a three-set win over Roberto Bautista Agut followed by a 6-0, 6-4 rout of Andrey Golubev. Japan’s top player appears to be bouncing back nicely from a groin injury that forced him out of a Miami semifinal and Davis Cup. Based on their past history and Cilic’s third-round tussle, Nishikori should have the edge. Clay is also likely to favor Barcelona’s No. 4 seed.

Pick: Nishikori in 3

53 Comments on Barcelona QF previews and picks: Nadal vs. Almagro, Nishikori vs. Cilic

  1. Tiggy Says:

    “Afterward, Portuguese tennis journalist Miguel Seabra said he thought Rafa has “introduced positional and technical changes in his game to better face Djokovic, but it’s affecting him vs. others.” I haven’t noticed that, but it’s possible, and it’s something to look for.

    What I immediately thought today was how much Nadal’s 2014 is beginning to resemble Roger Federer’s 2010. That year Federer, who was 28 and had finished the previous season at No. 1, lost for the first (and for the most part only) times in his career to Marcos Baghdatis, Ernests Gulbis, Albert Montanes, Robin Soderling, and Gael Monfils; he also lost twice to Tomas Berdych, who hadn’t beaten him in six years. So far in 2014, Nadal, who will be 28 in June and was No. 1 last season, has lost for the first time to Stan Wawrinka, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Nicolas Almagro, and for the first time in 10 years on clay to David Ferrer. In 2010, Federer was very close to winning in four of those defeats; in 2014, Rafa was close to winning against Dolgo and Almagro.”

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rafa loses in his first match in Madrid , if he shows up. That’s how low my expectations are now……………..

  3. The #1 ranking isn’t the most important thing now. For Rafa it’s finding a way to win and get some confidence heading into RG. How he is going to do it now, I have no idea. I just know that he is losing matches that he would have won in the past to players that have not been able to beat him.

    Rafa was being real when he said that he lost the power inside. I was nervous during MC and also watching Barcelona. I wanted to quiet the concerns and doubts in my head, trying to push them away. I just get a sense from watching this sport all my life. I so wanted to be proven wrong.

    I don’t have any expectations now. No predictions from me going forward.

  4. Forget number 1, the slide can be very steep considering he is virtually defending everything right upto USO now

  5. Yes, this is true. But I am just saying that Wimbledon is the one place where Rafa isn’t defending points.

  6. I was out all day and couldn’t really watch the match I just kept an eye on the score. When I checked and it had gone to a 3rd set I was very anxious but the next time I could check it, Almagro had broken serve to lead 4:3 in the 3rd set then when I checked again Rafa had equalised , but finally I saw that Rafa had lost and I was gutted, to say the least.

  7. “I had a lot of chances in the second set when I had the match more controlled but I didn’t take them,” Rafa told reporters. “As the match went on I was less calm but I still had openings in the third set at 3-1 and at 4-4 which I didn’t take. This is tennis and you just have to keep going.”

    Vamos Champ, one day at a time………………


    “For two sets I was playing better than him, much more chances than him,” he said. “I was in advantage, in control, and I missed a lot of opportunities during the match. And playing against a good opponent like him, the normal thing is lose in the end and that’s what happened.”

    Nadal pinpointed his areas for improvement ahead of those events. “A little bit of rhythm, a little bit of intensity, playing a little bit more regular… To play well on clay, I need to be more stable with my game.”

    • I disagree with part of Rafa’s take of the match. I thought he played better than Nico in the 1st set only, not for 2 sets. In the second set he had opportunities to break Nico and control the match but he played tentatively on BPs and allowed Nico to hang around. That surely cannot be termed playing better than your opponent?

      I thought Rafa’s BH was great but his serve and his FH let him down. I also thought his movement deserted him in the 3rd especially.

      However, the shot that is a real liability right now is Rafa’s serve. I watched snippets of Rafa’s matches in Montreal, Cincy and USOpen last year and his serving was impeccable. His serve started deserting him after the USOpen and he has yet to find the rhythm. Yes, on clay service breaks are common but Rafa should not be broken to love. Not normal at all.

  9. yes, Rafa is in the war with HIMSELF…he should sort it out with his alter ego…what we are witnessing right now isn’t our Rafa…this Rafa does not enjoy playing tennis…he has fears, he is mentally unstable and he seems rather lethargic…if he doesn’t want to play, then he shouldn’t…he should just take a break and think about the whole thing…and come back when he feels like it…maybe he is just tired of playing Spaniards… :0

    I spoke to a friend of mine who is Nole’s fan and he is of the opinion that Rafa is timing his game to be at best for RG where he expects Rafa to blow everyone of the court…interesting position, I dare say…I certainly am not convinced right now that could at all be the case…

    To be honest with you guys, after Rafa lost in MC I was thinking the best would have been to skip Barcelona…and the other day when Barca soccer teem played (Rafa wasn’t watching the game?! -strange) as they are also experiencing certain crisis, I though that Rafa should get away from hoodoo Barcelona and rest his mind…who cares about 250 points? If Rafa is mentally wasted and needs some time out this was the best time to do it…and Madrid as well…I hate that tournament…Rafa should come back for Rome and try to enjoy playing tennis…

    Vamos Rafa!

    • It appears every player now steps onto the court confident he can beat Rafa. Why, all of a sudden, is Rafa perceived as a weak link? And more importantly, he appears to be encouraging this narrative, very disturbing. You are right, @natashao2013, he does not look happy out there. Gosh, Nico looked more energized than Rafa! Very strange…..

    • While I do agree that Rafa does not look happy and is not himself, I disagree that he should take time off and that he should have skipped Barcelona. It’s a 500 tournament and his home one, so I don’t see the reason for him to skip it. When you fall off a bicycle, then you have to get back on.

      Rafa should not take time off. That won’t solve the problem. He has gone through times like this and found the fire inside again. You have to stay in the game. Borg walked away and never came back. That won’t solve his problems. I believe he has to stay in it and try to work through this difficulty.

      With due respect to your friend, I do not think that Rafa is timing his game to be at his best for RG. You don’t do that by losing. We have seen how Rafa thrives on winning, how it gives him momentum and loads of confidence. That theory reminds me of what chr18 said on TT last year about Novak having a strategy to get knocked out earlier in Madrid and Rome, since he had won MC. This way he would save himself for RG. I thought that was nonsense and told him so. I never thought that was Novak’s strategy. It makes no sense. You want to play and win the tournaments leading up to slams. Rafa won’t blow everyone off the court by not winning, especially when he has a ton of points to defend.

  10. deucy,

    Thanks for the support. I am not making any predictions about RG yet. I am not thinking that far ahead right now. I just have no idea what to expect at Madrid and Rome.

    I have been very stressed lately, but didn’t want to say too much here. For some reason I had this strong feeling that Rafa wasn’t going to win Barcelona. I don’t know why. It’s rare when I get these kinds of intense feelings that won’t go away. But I just chalked it up to worrying too much.

    I tried to do everything to cheer myself up today. I have a media blackout, which means I am not readying anything online about Rafa’s loss. I am still down.. I have to be real about that. I just have to believe that Rafa will work through this. I know that you have gone through a lot with Andy, too.

    It’s the price for being devoted fans. :'(

    • Are you feeling positive about RG? Or no thoughts yet?

      Why am I somehow feeling that Rafa will squeak in the slam victory after playing poorly in run up to the slams just like Fed did in 2009. He will struggle in RG , have few 5 setters but eventually win. Maybe its wishful thinking on my part but I somehow felt that Rafa would win around 10 tourneys last year way back in Feb and that figure 10 stuck in my mind and it happened exactly like that.

      I am not sure why I am feeling this will be a 2009 repeat of Fed for Rafa. I am sure its wishful thinking on my part as Fed won 2 slams that year:-)

      Finally tennis is won between the ears and not on wishes

      • @Sanju,

        I don’t know if your question was directed to me specifically or not, but I will try to answer it. Honestly, I am trying not to think ahead, but I guess we do have to think about it. I can’t imagine Rafa going into RG not having won any clay tournaments at all. I am still hoping that maybe he can win Rome.

        You bring up an interesting thought. I had not considered it. I guess anything is possible. There is a reason why Rafa has been so dominant at RG. We can always hope that he will somehow squeak out the victory. RG is the most important one of all. So if he can do it, then that would take away the bitter taste of his losses so far.

        I completely agree with your last sentence. Rafa is going to have to find it between the ears for sure.

      • Yes me too feeling hell win Rome and RG..or maybe will sumhow manage to squeak out a victory at Rome and RG..I hope he does, it wont be easy. Madrid is a sure write off

  11. The way Rafa is losing matches at the moment is far more disturbing than the actual losses. The big puzzle is his inability to convert BPs when he has his chances and to save BPs on his own serve. These have been his greatest strengths until now. The unforced errors/winners ratio is unusual for him but could be the result of trying out different tactics and shot techniques, weather conditions, court conditions etc. although I agree it is far more likely symptomatic of his confidence crisis.

  12. I absolutely agree that it is the manner in which Rafa is losing matches that is most concerning. I said it after the Miami final loss. But now it’s clay and to see it happening on Rafa’s best surface is just really surprising.

    Rafa has had these problems with converting BPs and saving BPs on his serve in the past. I remember this happening after he came back from the knee tendinitis in 2009. It also happened in 2011, but that was when Rafa was getting to finals and only losing to Novak.

    To me it’s a huge sign of lack of confidence. When Rafa has been on his game, winning and playing with confidence, he has been tough to break and also has been good at converting his BP chances. That is not the case now.

    I am trying to remember the match in which Rafa double faulted away the break and a set. Was it in Miami? I can’t remember at the moment. We don’t see him do this often.

    Unfortunately, the more he loses the less confidence he has. A vicious cycle. I am just hoping that talking it out here will help me deal with it.

  13. There are quite a few references on this thread about the need for Rafa to defend points. It was self evident this would be the challenge after the stellar results last year and Rafa himself pointed out it would be all but impossible to achieve.

    Right now the ATP ranking (and even more the so called Race to London) are the least of Team Rafa’s problems. The crucial issue is that Rafa regains his confidence and motivation to win. The points will follow.

  14. Rafa commented the other day that all the players want to beat him. He has to put in mega effort against anyone these days when the same players just go through the motions with other top players. He is a victim of his own success. There is far more purchase in beating him than beating Nole and even Federer. I feel so sorry for him.

    I hope he sorts himself out soon. He must be having more and more doubts with every loss. Still, we have to be realistic that he cannot go on sweeping the clay season for ever. If he evens out his success over all surfaces and wins more h/c titles as well as some clay ones that might take the pressure off him. It is a big yoke round his neck, whatever he says, to have to live up to expectations on clay for a decade, and I’m proud of him that he maintained it for so long.

    No current player will ever beat his clay record, so he can relax. Whether a player yet unknown would be able to do it remains to be seen.

  15. NNY: Keep the faith. In Rafa we believe.

    I am struck by the contrast between Rafa’s on court demeanour which is visibly tense and anxious and his remarkably sunny, relaxed behaviour while he is fulfilling all his media duties.

      • ^^^^^Good point. I’ve noticed how often he now leaves balls that once upon a time he would have risked all to chase down.

    • ed,

      Thanks for your encouraging words. I am trying to do my best. Of course I will support Rafa all the way, no matter what. It’s just hard to see him struggling like this in his matches. I do think that the pressure year in and year out to defend his record on clay, must be something that none of us can fathom. He has handled the pressure so well..

      I have noticed that he is not going after balls that he would have chased all over the place. Maybe Rafa is concerned about injuring himself.

      It’s good to be able to come here and just talk about it. That helps a lot! 🙂

  16. Somehow, it may take the pressure off him on clay because expectations are lower. I don’t know how he’s lived up to expectations for so long.

  17. Rafa has some sort of injury…is it only mental, lack of confidence or it has deeper roots we don’t know…But I still think if he is not ready to play, he should skip the tourney…losing in Barcelona is not the end of the world…let Niko gloat for a while, I am sure Rafa will get back to him soon…Rafa has done it before: he skipped tourneys when he was injured, not ready to play (like when he skipped AO) or similar…I completely agree with such approach…better than losing to nobody…now everybody thinks they could beat Rafa…and it makes Rafa’s job much more difficult…

    • natashao2013@April 26, 2014 at 8:43 am
      — (like when he skipped AO) or similar—

      Skipping the AO2013 was an extension of his 7 months layoff.

      • yes, I agree…he was not ready to play…yesterday, Rafa was not ready to play as well…he doesn’t feel like it due to some reason…he does not have that sparkle in his eyes…it proved before with Rafa that taking time off makes him good…Rafa is injured and he needs recovery time…both Toni and Rafa speak about flows in his game…he does not hide it, he speaks about it freely…so losing his matches early won’t contribute to raising his confidence and dealing with his mental issues…

  18. I couldn’t watch the match yesterday and judging from accounts of Nico’s tasteless celebrations I think I’ll give the recording a miss. I don’t know if I’ll even bother watching the rest of the tournament. Yes, I know that makes me a one dimensional tennis fan, but that’s the way it is right now.

  19. It may just take 1 tricky match for it to all come back and get the mojo going . Let us wait till Rome . I have zero expectations from Madrid

    We saw in FO 2011, it was the Soderling match that turned it around and he played his QF, SF, F well

    Lack of movement on court maybe that he does not feel the competitive edge currently. When your mind is not willing or tired, body feels the strain a lot

    • @sanju,

      I agree with you. Well said! In particular, I think your last sentence summed it all up perfectly. I absolutely believe that Rafa’s lack of movement on court is a symptom of his mental issues. It’s mind over matter. So true.

  20. And as nadline said its good he loses and breaks the 10 year reign of winning 4/5 clay tourneys. It had to happen someday anyway

  21. It’s not the first time this could have happened. It ‘s not as if he stream rolls everyone in straight sets in all his clay matches. In 2011 he had to scrape his way out of the early rounds and eventually won the title. He could have gone out in the 1st round to Isner. So I’m not going to despair that this is the end of the world, as Rafa says, a loss is always round the corner.

    Rafa puts it in perspective for me when the says the death of the former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova is far more important than him losing a tennis match.

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