(Photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)
In a run that may well be the making of his young career, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas faces Pablo Carreno Busta for a place in the Barcelona Open final. Carreno Busta, seeded fifth in Barcelona, was last year a semifinalist in New York, and is a clay courter of real pedigree, ranked world #11. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, has never been higher than his current ranking of world #63, and was not in the field in Milan. But he has so far impressed on the clay. Who will come out on top?
Carreno Busta and Tsitsipas have never played before. But they do come into the match with very different levels of experience. For Tsitsipas, this is just a second ATP semifinal, having made his first at the European Open last year (lost to Schwartzman). Carreno Busta reached the semifinals in Indian Wells and Flushing Meadows last year as well as winning the Estoril Open. He was also a semifinalist in Miami this year (lost to Zverev). He has 124 career victories to his name, Tsitsipas has just 14.
Path to the semifinal
Carreno Busta, seeded fifth, received a first round bye, beginning his campaign in the round of 32 against Benoit Paire. The entertaining Frenchman recently scored a win over Novak Djokovic in Miami, but was no match for Carreno Busta’s consistency and accuracy, losing 3-6 3-6. Carreno Busta was made to work harder for his next victory which came at the expense of Adrian Mannarino. Despite dominating the first set, the Spaniard was drawn into a real battle, eventually prevailing in three sets 6-2 4-6 7-6.
He then faced Grigor Dimitrov, the second seeded Bulgarian. But despite his high seeding and appearance in Monte Carlo last four, Dimitrov isn’t a natural clay courter, and had done well to reach the quarterfinals, having saved two match points in his last match. So it proved against Carreno Busta, who is at his very best on a clay court. Dimitrov battled valiantly, and can be proud of a span that has earned him five match wins already on clay, more than he managed last year, but lost 3-6 6-7.
Tsitsipas began his Barcelona Open with comfortable victories against Corentin Moutet, a teenaged Frenchman, and more impressively, Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, the seventh seed. He then defeated tenth seed Albert Ramos Vinolas, again in straight sets 6-4 7-5. Then, in comfortably the best performance of his career, he dismissed Dominic Thiem 6-3 6-2, whose reputation as the game’s second best on clay is coming under serious threat after two heavy defeats.
How do they match up?
Carreno Busta is one of the most consistent baseliners on the Tour. The Spaniard is a tireless runner and has the skillset to use the ball well even when on the defence. However, Carreno Busta is not devoid of attacking threat. His two-handed backhand is a versatile shot that the world #11 uses well down the line to open up court space. His forehand, whilst not one of the most dangerous, is rock solid.
One of the most impressive features of Tsitsipas’ game this week has been his court coverage. But it is his attacking play that is at the core of his success. Against Thiem, after showing impressive mental strength to recover from going an early break down, Tsitsipas played a varied game. He repeatedly caught Thiem out with drop shots and by going back behind him. He was able to do so because he is blessed with the easy power his fine technique affords him.
Tsitsipas is on a role and if he is able to play the sort of match he did against Thiem, then it would take someone of Nadal’s quality to stop him. But it will be doubly hard to summon that kind of performance twice in a week. Last year saw Shapovalov get a big win against Nadal, but falter against Zverev in Montreal. Tsitsipas will be feeling confident and that will aid his cause, but Carreno Busta will wear him down, eventually. The Spaniard to win in three sets.