In a rematch of last week’s excellent Beijing semifinal, world #1 Rafael Nadal takes on Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov. Nadal has never won in Shanghai, indeed, along with Paris and Miami it is the only trophy he is missing at Master’s level. He did make the final at the inaugural event in 2009 losing to Nikolay Davydenko but has not since returned to the title match. He will be hoping that his good form, he is on a 14 match winning streak, will be enough to carry him to the title. Dimitrov meanwhile will be looking to add to the Masters trophy he won in Cincinnati earlier in the year and further tighten his grasp on a spot at the ATP Tour finals. But who will come out on top?
Nadal and Dimitrov have met ten times so far in their careers. Nadal has won nine of those meetings, including the first seven. That run saw him pick up wins in Rotterdam, Monte Carlo, Cincinnati, Melbourne, Rome, Madrid and Basel. That being said Dimitrov put up a good fight in most of the matches, losing in straight sets just twice, both times on clay his worst surface. He finally scored a win over the Spaniard in Beijing last year, dismantling him in the quarterfinals, 6-2 6-4.
They have also met twice this year. The first came in a thrilling five-set battle at the Australian Open in the semifinals. Plenty was at stake for both men, but it was Nadal who eventually came through a 6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 6-4 winner to make the final. Their most recent meeting came last week in Beijing as mentioned above. After splitting the first two sets, with Dimitrov recovering from a break down in the second it looked delicately poised. But Nadal stormed through the decider after an early break to wrap up the victory and move in to the final where he defeated Kyrgios for the title.
Path to the quarterfinal
Nadal has been in ruthless mood so far this week. He began in the second round, having received a bye in the first, against Jared Donaldson. There were some that thought that Donaldson might be able to trouble the great Spaniard. His consistent groundstrokes from the baseline and powerful forehand can make him a tough opponent. But against Nadal he was outclassed throughout. The first set was quickly lost 2-6 and Donaldson looked punch drunk. Nadal was no more forgiving in finishing off Donaldson who managed just one more game. A chastening experience for the American.
Nadal next faced off against a rather more experienced foe in the shape of Fabio Fognini. The Italian has three career wins against Nadal, including notably at the US Open. But all those wins came in 2015 and the Italian had also suffered nine defeats to Nadal. The Spaniard made it ten with a comprehensive 6-3 6-1 victory that was only barely more competitive than his win over Jared Donaldson. If the Spaniard can keep up his form, then he will take some stopping in Shanghai.
Dimitrov, seeded sixth, faced America’s Ryan Harrison in the second round after also receiving a first round bye. He also faced an almighty scare. Harrison began superbly, setting up two break points in Dimitrov’s second service game with a rifled backhand pass. Against such accuracy and power the Bulgarian could do little and he dropped the first set 3-6. Dimitrov levelled the match in the second set but couldn’t get the upper hand in the decider. It went to a tiebreak and there Dimitrov’s Shanghai Masters came perilously close to ending. Harrison manufactured three match points, but proved able to convert none of them. Dimitrov roared back into contention with a crucial minibreak at 6-6 with a huge forehand piercing Harrison’s defensive. An ace sealed what had looked an unlikely win indeed for the Bulgarian.
Dimitrov next clashed with Sam Querrey of the United States. It was the American that pressed early forcing break points in the first game of the match. But Dimitrov held firm before breaking himself thanks to a poor Querrey forehand that found the net. Dimitrov held his advantage throughout the remainder of the set, wrapping it up 6-3. But he was caught cold at the start of the second, and was broken to love in his first service game. Querrey threw his advantage away, being broken to love himself in his next service game. Neither player was able to find a decisive advantage thereafter, and the match went to a tiebreak. There Querrey had the early advantage but too many loose errors cost him and he lost it 7-3.
How do they match up?
The key to Nadal’s resurgence this year has been an increased faith in his forehand. That being said, it is also worth considering the other elements of his game that have also improved. His backhand has been particularly impressive, with the addition of Carlos Moya to his coaching team seemingly the key reason for that improvement. His serve has also been effective this year. It is never going to be one of the biggest on Tour, but Nadal uses what he has well. One area in which Dimitrov has been particularly impressive during the Asian swing so far is using his defensive slices. Repeatedly against Querrey and Harrison he kept himself alive with deep slices that Djokovic would have been proud of.
He has also been hitting his forehand with real confidence, particularly against Querrey. He had the courage to go deep in his backhand corner and dictate with the forehand, trusting that he would not be burned down the line. Against Nadal such a tactic will be risky, but it is none the less one that Dimitrov would do well to adopt. If the Bulgarian plays cautiously he will lose if he attacks from the outset he will have a chance.
Nadal may have come out on top last week, but Dimitrov will win this time. Having been tested by Querrey and Harrison already he should come into this match battle-hardened and ready. Nadal, meanwhile, has dismissed his two opponents out of hand. Against, an in form Dimitrov this might just leave him caught a little cold. Dimitrov to win in three sets.
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