It’s semi-final Saturday in Barcelona and Bucharest and it’s fair to assume that the tournament director is far happier in Romania than in Spain today.
The Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell has lost both star turns in Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer before the latter stages, while both big names are still going in the BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy – just.
Lukas Rosol landed the set betting gamble for us on Friday, as the Czech overpowered Gilles Simon in the heavy Bucharest conditions as expected, although he did give cause for concern in the opening set.
Rosol almost messed it up from a double break ahead in set one before regrouping just in time to take it on a tie breaker and he was never really in any bother in set two, as Simon offered only token resistance and looks a shadow of his former self right now.
Elsewhere, I said yesterday that Paul-Henri Mathieu could have been a banana skin of a match for Gael Monfils, and how that should have been the case, as Paulo somehow managed to throw away a lead of a set and four straight match points at 6-2 in the second set breaker to lose in three.
But that drama was nothing compared to Nadal’s loss to Nico Almagro, who further damaged Rafa’s hopes of retaining his French Open crown by landing a first win over his nemesis in 11 matches.
Ernests Gulbis 2.25 vs Kei Nishikori 1.60 - BET and STREAM live on Unibet TV from 12.35
At least Albert Costa, the TD of the Barcelona Open, has one crowd pleaser left, in the form of one Ernests Gulbis, who can light it up with both his tennis and his antics and he might make a decent bet as underdog today.
The eccentric Latvian won the battle of the madmen over Teimurz Gabashvili with a fair bit to spare on Friday and he’ll come into this one with confidence after a near faultless showing against the Russian.
It would take someone with superb knowledge to recall the last and only career meeting between Gulbis and Nishikori, which was in the quarter finals of the XL Bermuda Open on the Challenger circuit way back in 2008, and it’s slightly surprising that they’ve never met at tour level – until today.
Nishikori has never made a tour level final on European red clay – or indeed a semi-final – his best previously on this surface was a couple of quarter finals, discounting Houston, which is played on a different kind of clay surface.
He comes into this one as favourite after what really were a couple of easy wins over Andrey Golubev and Marin Cilic, but the latter was very much affected by his prior marathon with Tommy Robredo and even Golubev should have taken a set, so I still have doubts about him on this surface.
Ernie’s best on clay came back in 2010 when he beat Roger Federer, Pippo Volandri and Feli Lopez to make the Rome semi finals, where he lost to Nadal in three sets and he too is yet to make a final on clay.
This one could be tight and although Kei has been lethal in first sets this week, dropping just two games in three matches in his openers, Gulbis has only been broken three times all tournament compared with Kei’s seven and he may just have the edge on serve.
If the Latvian has a good day at the service line the value is on him here at 2.25 and he always enjoys the role of underdog more than the pressure of favouritism, which leads me to back Ernie today.
Nico Almagro will do well to follow up his win over Nadal with a comfortable back up over Santiago Giraldo and it would be typical of Nico to just sneak it 2-1 at 3.75, rather than with ease as his price of 1.24 suggests.
Over in Buchrest, Rosol takes on fellow big hitter Robin Haase in what is really a 50/50 match for me. My outright position would love a Rosol win, but perhaps slight value is on Haase, who’s doing very well in his first ever week on tour without a coach.
Perhaps the match of the day could be the Monfils/Dimitrov clash at 12.00 UK time, with my preference there leaning towards Grigor, but the overs looks likely in that one unless Gael is affected by his long match yesterday.
Back Gulbis to beat Nishikori at 2.25