In what is already looking like turning into another clay season of domination for Rafael Nadal, the world #1 takes on Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the Monte Carlo final. Despite this being just the second tournament Nadal has played this year, he has begun in impressive fashion. Dimitrov, meanwhile, has had a disappointing year so far, making just one final in Rotterdam (lost to Federer), but has played well so far in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Who will reach the final?
Nadal and Dimitrov have met eleven times so far and it is not a match up that has favoured the Bulgarian. Of those eleven meetings, he has emerged victorious just once. That was in Beijing at the tail-end of the 2016 season, where Dimitrov put in an excellent performance in the quarterfinals to topple Nadal. That ended a run of eight straight Nadal victories that had begun in 2009 in Rotterdam and included victory in Dimitrov’s first Slam quarterfinal in 2013 in Melbourne.
They have met three times previously on clay, though not since 2015. Their first meeting on the ‘terre battue’ came in 2013 at the Monte Carlo Country Club in the quarterfinals, with Nadal winning 6-2 2-6 6-4. He was more comfortable when they met in 2014 in Rome in the semifinals with Nadal dismissing Dimitrov 6-2 6-2. It was scarcely more competitive in Madrid the following year in the quarterfinals with Nadal winning 6-3 6-4.
Path to the semifinals
With both players receiving first round byes, Nadal began in the second round against Aljaz Bedene. The Spaniard was in dominant form, dismissing Bedene’s challenge in a 6-1 6-3 win. Big hitting Russian Karen Khachanov fared little better in the third round, losing 3-6 2-6. That set up a clash with Dominic Thiem, widely regarded as the second best clay courter in the world. But Nadal destroyed him in a 6-0 6-2 win, with the Austrian never able to lay a glove on Nadal.
Dimitrov started his Monte Carlo Masters against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, recovering from dropping the first set to win in three. He backed that victory up with another three set win against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. Again Dimitrov was forced to recover from dropping the first set to get the win. He then faced off against David Goffin. Dimitrov took the first set, but went down an early break in the second. He got back into it after saving a set point with a superb backhand and won it in the tiebreak.
How do they match up?
Nadal will look to dominate this encounter from the outset. The Spaniard often takes a fairly high court position and dictates proceedings with his forehand. Against Thiem he was also able to use his backhand to good effect cross court. The Austrian was repeatedly stretched out wide on his forehand side, leaving Nadal lots of open space to hit into. Dimitrov will have to avoid this pattern.
But that is easier said than done. For Dimitrov, whose backhand is more of a weakness than Thiem’s, is doubly vulnerable. It is not likely that his backhand side will stand up to a stern examination from the Nadal cross court forehand. But Dimitrov will be unable to compensate for this and defend his backhand side, because that will leave him vulnerable to the Nadal cross court backhand that was Thiem’s undoing.
It would take the perfect Dimitrov performance to defeat Nadal here. In fact, it would possibly take more than the perfect Dimitrov performance to unseat Nadal in Monte Carlo. The Bulgarian just doesn’t have the firepower to defeat Nadal, whilst his own weaknesses are likely to be exposed by the Spaniard’s preferred patterns. Dimitrov may well approach this match in terms of damage limitation, escaping the court with more than a handful of games to his name would be a creditable effort. Nadal in straight sets.
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