ATP Barcelona final preview: Rafael Nadal - Kei Nishikori
ATP Barcelona final preview: Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori

Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori prepare for a showdown in the Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell final. It is a matchup between the two-time defending champion and the former eight-time champion as the ATP 500 event got what it wanted as the top two seeds will meet in the final after back-to-back years where Nadal has failed to make the final. Now after capturing the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title, his ninth title in the principality, the former world number one looks rejuvenated and ready to claim a ninth Barcelona title as well.

Nadal’s Road to the Final

As the top seed, Nadal received a first round bye and met fellow countryman Marcel Granollers in the second round. Granollers, who was a lucky loser in Monte Carlo, was looking to continue his good fortune in Barcelona, but Nadal made sure that wasn’t meant to be. In the third round, it was another Spaniard, Albert Montanes, and once again, the eight-time Barcelona Open champion cruised, winning 6-2, 6-2.

In the quarterfinals, Nadal met a familiar foe in Fabio Fognini, the man who defeated him three times last year, including at Barcelona. The Spaniard made it a fourth straight 6-2 set by taking the opening set by that scoreline, but the Italian fought back from a break down to go up a break to continue to be a nuisance to the former world number one. However, Nadal, like the champion he is, fought his way back to take it in straights, winning the second set in a tiebreak.

In his semifinal match, he met German Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German had come from behind in his early round matches. A late night match the night before the semifinals did not help the German’s cause as he was outclassed by the King of Clay 6-3, 6-3.

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates a point against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany during day six of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona on April 23, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates a point against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany during day six of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona on April 23, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Nishikori’s Road to the Final

The Japanese number one’s opponents were much tougher than Nadal’s from start to finish. Thiemo de Bakker was no pushover in their second round showdown. He was able to hang tight in the first set but was outclassed in the second. Frenchman Jeremy Chardy also kept it close both sets, but once again, it was to no avail.

In the quarterfinals, he met the unorthodox yet very talented Alexandr Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian held set points in the opening set but failed to convert any and would eventually drop the set. In the second, it was a one-way Japanese bullet train as Nishikori delivered a bagel set en route to the semifinals. He met another Frenchman, Benoit Paire, in the semifinals. Despite losing his last two matches to the enigmatic Frenchman, Nishikori did not break a sweat here, winning in straights.

Kei Nishikori of Japan plays a forehand against Benoit Paire of France during day six of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona on April 23, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Kei Nishikori of Japan plays a forehand against Benoit Paire of France during day six of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona on April 23, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Head-to-Head

This is a category that the Spaniard owns as Nishikori has been only able to notch one win against Nadal in his career, back at the 2015 Rogers Cup. The Japanese number one had Nadal on the ropes in the 2014 Mutua Madrid Open final, but a back injury hampered Nishikori from finishing.

Nadal leads the head-to-head, 8-1, and won their lone matchup this year. The two met in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open, and Nadal took that one 6-4, 6-3.

Rafael Nadal of Spain shakes hands with Kei Nishikori of Japan after beating him in straight sets during day twelve of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 18, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal of Spain shakes hands with Kei Nishikori of Japan after beating him in straight sets during day twelve of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 18, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Analysis

Nishikori’s clay court results over the past two years are no joking matter. He’s a major threat to Djokovic and Nadal on this surface because the courts play slower, and he can use his speed to his advantage as well as the high bounce to keep in the points longer. In a battle of the backhands, Nishikori holds the edge right now, though, Nadal is bludgeoning his backhand pretty well lately.

For Nadal, his advantages are owning the head-to-head, home court, and forehand. Head-to-head is something that was discussed earlier so we won’t go into more detail about that, and home court is self-explanatory that the Spanish crowd will be firmly behind Nadal for this one. However, forehand, which is something that dictates Nadal’s confidence, has been a major key to his successes so far in 2016. The fearsome forehand, which was broken down by our own Max Gao earlier this week, is back as he’s hitting it with the same power, bite, and depth as he was when winning majors. Nishikori’s forehand comes nowhere near Nadal’s, even on a bad day.

The serve for these two are pretty even as neither have an outstanding serve, with both of them noting that this is a weakness in their game right now. Movement is also pretty close as that is what both of these player excel at, though Nadal may hold the slightest of advantages with it being clay.

Final Thoughts

Nadal has faced some tough opponents on the clay these past couple of weeks, but none have posed the threat that Nishikori has on the clay over the past couple of years. The Spaniard should be relishing this challenge as this is his stiffest clay test so far this year and passing it would mean that he’s almost back to top form. The chance at number nine is going to be tough, going up against the man who wants his third straight title in Catalonia. Expect some long, grueling rallies as well as some brilliant shotmaking and defense from these two.

Prediction: Nadal in three sets

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