(Photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)
Fresh from recording his 400th clay court victory, Rafael Nadal will look to claim his 11th Barcelona Open crown when he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek teenager has been something of a revelation this week and made history of his own after reaching the final, which made him the first Greek to do so at an ATP event since Nicholas Kalogeropoulos in Des Moines in 1973. Both players come into the final in sparkling form, but something will have to give. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Tsitsipas have never met before, but they do come into the final with vastly different levels of experience. Whilst Nadal is bidding for a 77th career title in what is his 113th final. Tsitsipas has never before made a Tour-level final, with his best effort before this week reaching the semifinals in Antwerp (lost to Schwartzman). He is also the youngest Barcelona finalist since Rafael Nadal himself in 2005. Nadal won that match, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero. If Tsitsipas can do the same it would be a seismic shock.
Path to the final
Nadal, the top seed in Barcelona, received a first round bye and began his campaign for the title against his countryman Roberto Carballes Baena. Carballes Baena won a first title earlier this season in Quito, but was given little chance against Nadal. Despite that he played impressively, but couldn’t do enough to hurt Nadal, losing 4-6 4-6. Nadal was more comfortable against another of his compatriots, Guillermo Garcia Lopez, defeating the veteran 6-1 6-3.
Before their quarterfinal clash, Martin Klizan had spoken openly about his belief that Nadal was beatable on clay. Early on it looked like a foolish statement as he lost the first set to love, but he acquitted himself well in the second, forcing three set points before Nadal turned it around to win 6-0 7-5. The world #1 was then forced to overcome some early David Goffin resistance in the semifinals, but he overpowered the Belgian in the second set, winning it 6-0.
Tsitsipas, unseeded, opened his tournament against fellow 19-year-old Corentin Moutet of France. Tsitsipas greater experience was evident as he brushed aside Moutet’s challenge. He then delivered a hugely impressive performance to dismiss Diego Schwartzman, the seventh seed and one of the best clay courters on Tour. He was similarly impressive against the tenth seeded Albert Ramos Vinolas, winning 6-4 7-5 against the former Monte Carlo finalist.
The Greek continued his terrific form with a stunning victory against Dominic Thiem, the third seed in Barcelona and the man widely considered to be the second best clay courter in the world. Tsitsipas, however, ran through Thiem, winning 6-3 6-2 after recovering an early break in the second set. He overcame another formidable opponent in the semifinals when he defeated world #11 Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5 6-3 to advance to the title match.
How do they match up?
Nadal’s qualities are well-known, not least by Tsitsipas who claimed to have been watching the Spaniard’s matches for over a decade. The centrepiece of his game is his forehand, which he is able to hit with a combination of spin and pace that few, if any, can match. That forehand will test Tsitsipas, particularly his one-handed backhand. Nadal has handed out more than his fair share of demolitions to players with one handed-backhands on clay. Tsitsipas will have to be at his best if he wants to avoid having his name added to that list.
Tsitsipas has been playing with enough confidence so far in Barcelona that it seems safe to assume he won’t be overawed by the occasion. But as well as he has played, he faces what is surely the toughest test in tennis at the moment. Nadal, having won his past 42 sets on clay, has looked as good in Barcelona as he did in Monte Carlo. This may prove to be a fairly bruising experience for the Greek. Nadal in straight sets.