Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov face off in what could be a scintillating semifinal encounter at the China Open as the Bulgarian looks to pull off the upset in their tenth meeting of their careers.
Nadal has had an incredible season thus far, reaching three Major finals and extending his Grand Slam haul to 16, while Dimitrov reentered the top-10 with some consistent results which allowed him to reclaim his status of being a contender at the major tournaments. They face off for the second time this year having met at the start of the year in Melbourne, and the enthusiastic fans in Beijing will have a good show to watch as the two battle tomorrow afternoon at the National Tennis Stadium.
Nadal’s path to the semifinals
Nadal had the worst possible draw despite being the top seed as he was drawn to face the dangerous Frenchman Lucas Pouille, the player who sent him crashing out of the US Open last year. Knowing that it was a tough challenge, Nadal lived up to the occasion and managed to edge through in the encounter, saving two match points to triumph in the first-round thriller.
Going against Russian talent Karen Khachanov, Nadal surprisingly did not face any troubles and strolled to the comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win in just under 90 minutes of play, making his 12th quarterfinal appearance of the year. He then exacted revenge for his Laver Cup loss with an impressive straight-sets win over the big-serving John Isner, prevailing in the tight affair which saw him fend off all three break points he faced in the encounter.
Dimitrov’s path to the semifinals
Dimitrov had a tricky opener as he was drawn to face the in-form Damir Dzumhur in the first round, with the Bosnian rattling off 25 wins in his last 31 matches. Despite a slight hiccup in the second set, the Bulgarian was able to claim the win in three sets to overcome his slow start to the tournament.
A blockbuster second-round meeting with wildcard and 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro followed as the match-up definitely lived up to the hype it received, with Dimitrov prevailing in the high-quality encounter after exactly two hours of play.
The world number eight was able to ride on his momentum and prevailed in a tight quarterfinal clash against fifth seed Roberto Bautista Agut, coming back from an early deficit in the final set to do so, setting up a meeting with Nadal in Beijing for the second consecutive year.
Scheduled third at the National Tennis Stadium, this encounter between Nadal and Dimitrov will be a top-notch battle between a counterpuncher and an aggressive player. Both players excel with their playing styles and their world-class tennis was what allowed them to enter the world’s top 10, especially for Nadal and his 16 Grand Slam titles.
Dubbed as the “baby Federer” in the younger days of his career, Dimitrov adopts a playing style similar to Nadal’s biggest rival of his life as he is a very aggressive player looking to dictate play throughout the match. He would look to use his solid groundstrokes and powerful serves and overpower the defensive-minded Nadal, who could be aggressive at times.
His famous one-handed backhand should also be a weapon, especially the slices on it, but Nadal deals extremely well with those slices and the Bulgarian will be looking to utilize his consistent forehands more often. Dimitrov would have to lessen the number of unforced errors at the baseline as Nadal is an incredible baseliner who could possibly return any balls that lands on his side of the court.
Nadal deals well with the pace of Dimitrov’s shots, as seen in their past meetings. The Spaniard is one of the best returners in the game and his returning position in the back of the court would allow him to better anticipate the direction of the serve, but it could also pose a danger as his opponent would be able to throw in a drop shot.
Nadal’s forehand is one of his most famous shots, and if the match were to be a physical one, the French Open and US Open champion will have the edge. Nadal is an excellent defender, and Dimitrov will definitely find it a daunting task to be hitting consecutive winners past the 16-time Grand Slam champion, and thus the Spaniard could come up with some impressive shots to turn defense into offense, turning the point into his advantage.
Nadal and Dimitrov had met for a total of nine times in the past, with the Spaniard leading their lopsided head-to-head 8-1. Their most notable meeting came at this year’s Australian Open, where Nadal triumphed in a five set thriller. It was a semifinal encounter with Nadal playing for his first Major final since 2014 and Dimitrov aiming to reach his first ever Grand Slam final. Dimitrov’s only win, coincidentally, came at the China Open last year and the Bulgarian triumphed with a 6-2, 6-4 scoreline.
Match Prediction:  Rafael Nadal d.  Grigor Dimitrov in three sets