Semi final Saturday in week 16 of the 2016 ATP World Tour features clay court action from Spain and Romania, with Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori among those in action today.
And it was Nishikori who, after saving set points in his opener against Alexandr Dolgopolov, landed the ‘sure thing’ for us on Friday when he ran away with set two over the Ukrainian.
Then we enjoyed a second success when Fernando Verdasco and Robin Haase went past the 21.5 total games mark in a 7-6, 6-3 win for Verdasco in their Bucharest quarter final.
Those on Guido Pella +2.5 games would also have been pleased with the outcome of that Bucharest battle with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and we came within a couple of points of a clean sweep and a ‘long shot’ winner with Fabio Fognini.
Fogna served for the one set we needed from him and came close, but Rafa Nadal moved through the gears and foiled us in a tie break in the end.
Federico Delbonis vs Lucas Pouille
There were contrasting quarter final wins for Delbonis and Pouille on Friday in Bucharest, which may well play a part in the outcome of their semi final clash at around 11:00 UK time on Saturday.
Delbonis breezed past Marco Cecchinato in straight sets in just over an hour, while Pouille was involved in a nigh-on two-and-a-half hour scrap with Italian battler Paulo Lorenzi.
The Frenchman had to come from a set and a break down to beat Lorenzi and that effort may count against him today in a first career clash with Delbonis and only a second main level match on clay against a leftie.
Pouille’s only prior match at this level against a leftie was against Nadal in Monte-Carlo last year and on all surfaces he’s only played five matches at main level versus left-handers.
Two of those were defeats to Adrian Mannarino and with this also being only his third career semi final at tour level there’s a bit of a lack of experience factor with Pouille as well.
He has been playing well in recent weeks, but so has Delbonis, and the Argentine’s extra power should help him to win more quick points than Pouille, who may well have to do this the hard way again and I’m not sure he’ll have the legs to do it after that Lorenzi battle.
The 2-0 to Delbonis at 2.30 appeals here, with eight of his last 10 match wins at this level coming in straight sets.
In the other semi final I’m hoping that my outright on Fernando Verdasco rolls on to the final and really it should do, with Nando facing an opponent who struggles with lefties and is coming off the back of a very long match.
Verdasco has won all five of his clay clashes with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and he should be the fresher by far today too, but it’s hard to be overly confident in Verdasco.
He ‘should’ win this match given the circumstances of GGL’s likely condition and his match-up advantage, but the prices look about right to me in that one.
Rafael Nadal vs Philipp Kohlschreiber
Nadal looks very much in the mood at the moment, with that Monte-Carlo title clearly banishing much of the doubt that has plagued him for the last year or two and it’s hard to see even an in-form Kohlschreiber stopping him here.
Fognini played some superb tennis in the second set of his clash with Rafa yesterday and still wasn’t able to take a set and this one may well go the same way, with Kohlschreiber likely to shine at times, but not when it really counts.
The German was a surprisingly easy winner over an erratic Andrey Kuznetsov last night on the back of a marathon three-setter with another Spanish lefty in Feli Lopez and he is playing very well, but this match-up is tough for him.
Kohlschreiber has had his moments against Nadal before, but not on clay, where he’s yet to take more than four games in a set against the Spaniard and that may not change today in this 15:00 approx. UK time start.
Kohli, as a relatively short guy (by standards in the sport these days) with a one-handed backhand, has the problem of dealing with Nadal’s spitting lefty forehand, which even in the drizzle yesterday was rearing up enough to make life difficult for Fognini.
The Italian is able to take the ball early with his two-hander and he has a shortish backswing on it and while Kohlschreiber also likes to take the ball early if he can his longer backswings don’t really help him in this match-up.
He may make a set close, as he is in confident mood, but his 1-11 record against Rafa (0-4 on clay) and 0-22 record versus top-five ranked opponents since beating Nadal on grass in 2012 hardly inspires confidence in him.
Benoit Paire vs Kei Nishikori
My one outright bet in Barcelona this week was Paire at 60.0, but it’ll need a small miracle for that to come in with Nadal in such form and especially after his dismal showing yesterday against Malek Jaziri, but you never know with Benoit.
He has beaten today’s opponent Nishikori twice in his last two meetings and clearly his game – if the Frenchman is on it today – does cause problems for the Japanese star and hopefully Paire will fancy this one more than he did the Jaziri match.
Both of Paire’s wins over Nishikori were in big matches for the Japanese – at home in Tokyo last season and in round one of the 2015 US Open when Kei had made the final there the previous season.
On clay they’ve met only once and it was a four set win for Nishikori at the 2013 French Open and he’s won both encounters that have taken place in Paire’s backyard, so this one should mean something to both men.
I like the 3.45 about a tie break being played in this one, as there has been in three of their four career clashes and if Paire keeps that first serve percentage high we may well see one again.
Paire served at 58 percent in Tokyo and 63 percent in New York last season when he beat Nishikori and he hasn’t been better than 55 percent so far this week, so he needs better today.
If he does that he has a shot and he’ll also need better from his in and out forehand than we saw yesterday too, but this is Paire and he’s quite capable of turning up today and playing superbly.
Sure thing: Back Nadal to beat Kohlschreiber 2-0 at 1.42
Value bet: Back Delbonis to beat Pouille 2-0 at 2.30
Long shot: Back tie break played in Nishikori/Paire at 3.45