(Photo credit: Reuters/Jean-Pierre Amet)
As he continues to set new records on a clay court, world #1 Rafael Nadal will look to continue his nigh on unstoppable form on the red dirt when he takes on Martin Klizan of Slovakia. Klizan is currently ranked outside the top 100 at world #140 after a period out with injury, but is a five-time titlist at Tour-level and has been ranked as high as 24th in the world. He’s performed on the big stage in the past, having won every final he’s contested, including two at ATP 500 level. But who will win this one?
Nadal and Klizan have met three times in their careers though they haven’t played since 2014. Nadal leads the head-to-head two matches to one. He won their first match in 2013 at Roland Garros, recovering from losing the first set to win in four, 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3, going on to win the title. The Spaniard was victorious again a year later at Wimbledon, again dropping the first set before recovering to win in four, again by a score of 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3.
But Klizan got his revenge later that year in the Beijing quarterfinals. Despite losing a fiercely contested first set in a tiebreak, the Slovakian was undeterred. Playing ultra-attacking tennis, Klizan pummelled through Nadal’s defences in the second and third sets, and won the match 6-7 6-4 6-3, though he was handed a heavy defeat in the semifinals by Tomas Berdych, losing 4-6 1-6. Klizan will doubtless be looking to those memories for inspiration against Nadal.
Path to the quarterfinals
Nadal, the top seed in Barcelona, received a first round bye. That saw him open his campaign for an eleventh Barcelona title against his compatriot, Roberto Carballes Baena. Carballes Baena, who earlier in the season won his first title in Quito, acquitted himself well in defeat, giving Nadal his toughest test of the clay court season so far in a 4-6 4-6 loss. Nadal was more comfortable against another Spaniard, Guillermo Garcia Lopez, in the third round, brushing aside the veteran’s challenge 6-1 6-3.
Klizan began his tournament in the qualifying, where he defeated both Belarus’ Uladzimir Ignatik and America’s Ernesto Escobedo in straight sets. That earned him a place in the main draw where he faced Argentina’s Federico Delbonis. Klizan was able to scrape past Delbonis in a hard-fought 6-3 6-7 6-4 win to earn a match up against former world #1 Novak Djokovic, who was playing in Barcelona for the first time since 2006 in an attempt to build up his match fitness.
Klizan, however, clearly had no interest in helping Djokovic regain his form as he took apart the twelve-time Grand Slam champion in the first set, winning it 6-2. In the second, hints of the Djokovic of old appeared as the Serbian raced away with it 6-1 to level the match. But he couldn’t sustain his level as Klizan took control of the decider, winning it 6-3 to score a first win in five attempts against Djokovic. He then defeated Feliciano Lopez comfortably to advance to the last eight.
How do they match up?
For the first time on clay this year, Nadal is facing a fellow left-hander, which will likely lead to a change of tactics from the great Spaniard. Typically, particularly on a clay court, Nadal seeks to break down his opponents backhand by targeting it with his crosscourt forehand, which rarely proves to be an equal exchange. Of course, there is more to Nadal’s tactics than that, but it is the bedrock of his success. But against a left-hander, the trade becomes forehand to forehand.
That will be something Nadal will look to avoid becoming a pattern against Klizan. The Slovakian strikes his forehand with as much venom and whip as Nadal. It is the Slovakian’s biggest weapon, and he will need it to be firing against Nadal. The Spaniard will almost certainly have to defend more in this match than he did against Carballes Baena and Garcia Lopez. Fortunately, he is one of the best movers in the game. Indeed, hitting through Nadal on a clay court is arguably currently the hardest thing to accomplish in tennis.
Martin Klizan has been able to test Nadal in the past. It’s not a particularly favourable match up for Nadal, who has to make significant alterations to his usual patterns to avoid giving Klizan too many forehands. But he has still beaten him twice in three meetings, including in their only clay court match. Moreover, Klizan is not the player he was in 2014. For that reason, expect Nadal to come through in straight sets, though he may be tested by the Slovakian.