ATP Barcelona: Rafael Nadal stays on course for tenth title

Nine-time Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell champion Rafael Nadal is two matches away from a historic tenth title on home soil after holding off a spirited fight from Next-Gen star Hyeon Chung in the quarterfinals on Friday. Despite playing Nadal on his own court, literally on Pista Rafael Nadal, the young Korean showed no signs of nerves in the opening set, but couldn’t hang with the King of Clay, eventually giving way to the Spaniard who won 7-6(1), 6-2.

Chung can’t put Nadal away

After the pair exchanged strong holds to start the match, a few miss-hits from Nadal in the third game gave Chung the first break point of the match. The nine-time champion would net his backhand to fall behind early in the match. The young Korean would have to fight to consolidate the break, blowing a 40-15 lead but managed to hang on for a 3-1 lead.

Hyeon Chung chases down a forehand during his loss in Barcelona. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Hyeon Chung chases down a forehand during his loss in Barcelona. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Despite a shaky start, the Spaniard began to up his level and before long, was pounding Chung around the court with his relentlessly deep groundstrokes. He was rewarded with a pair of break points in the sixth game and pulled out a classic Nadal forehand to convert it, ripping his primary weapon up the line past Chung for a winner on the full stretch despite the Korean dominating the point to level the set at 3-3.

But just when Nadal seemed poised to take control of the match, Chung would up his level again and began matching his far more experienced opponent shot-for-shot. At 5-5, the 20-year-old had an opening when errors from Nadal gave the Korean a 0-30 lead on the Spaniard’s serve. Nadal fought back, but some great depth from Chung brought up a break point, only for Nadal to save it by winning a drop shot battle. The set required a tiebreak and it was dominated by the reigning champion. Nadal won the first six points and converted his second set point to win it 7-1 and take the opening.

Nadal races into semifinals

Nadal wasted no time in carrying his momentum into the second set, forcing errors and breaking Chung in the opening game of the set. The defending champion would swiftly consolidate for the early 2-0 lead. He had chances to make it a double break lead in the fifth game, but Chung managed to intercept a drop shot return and punch it past Nadal for a volley winner on break point, and then the Spaniard missed a second serve return on a second. At the third time of asking, a desperation lob from Nadal landed in and Chung would go on to miss a backhand wide to give his opponent a 4-1 lead.

Nadal attacks a forehand during the quarterfinal win. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Nadal attacks a forehand during the quarterfinal win. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

That would be all Nadal would need as he cruised through his remaining two service games. After holding to make his opponent serve it out, Chung found himself staring down triple match point, but made a small statement by saving the first with a huge forehand up the line. Still, it was nowhere near enough as Nadal fired an ace on the next point to wrap up the victory in straight sets.

By the numbers

Despite times in the match when he appeared to be playing catch-up, Nadal did practically everything right in this match, winning 81 percent of his first serve points, while pummeling Chung’s second serve, winning 57 percent of those points. The Spaniard won two of his five break points while saving one of the only two he faced. Chung’s aggression was impressive, but it proved to be his undoing and he hit more than twice as many unforced errors as winners, missing 28 times to only 12 winners. Nadal also had more errors than winners, but a far small margin with 26 unforced errors to 21 winners.

Nadal will take on Horacio Zeballos for a spot in the final. The pair have split their previous two meetings, both coming on clay, with Zeballos stunning Nadal in their most recent meeting in the 2013 Vina del Mar final.