The finals of our two clay tournaments in week 16 of the 2016 ATP World Tour are set for Sunday in Bucharest and Barcelona.
Rafa Nadal will take on Kei Nishikori in the Barcelona Open final after the Spaniard provided us a winner for the ‘sure thing’ on Saturday in a straight sets win over Philipp Kohlschreiber.
I said yesterday that Benoit Paire would need to serve at a good percentage to have a chance against Nishikori in their Barcelona semi, but he produced his worst of the week in that regard, with a dismal 43 percent of first serves in play.
That meant the ‘long shot’ had no chance and over in Bucharest there was no joy for the ‘value bet’ either when we saw the opposite of what I expected in the semi final between Federico Delbonis and Lucas Pouille.
Instead of Pouille being jaded after a tough battle the day before it was Delbonis who appeared flat and the Frenchman took full advantage.
Fernando Verdasco vs Lucas Pouille
In yesterday’s preview I said that Verdasco ‘should’ beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and in typical Verdasco style he made it hard work for himself and caused us outright backers of the Spaniard unnecessary stress.
Leading by a set and *3-2 and a 1.04 chance Verdasco proceeded to lose the next four games of set two and had to regroup for set three, which he was able to do against the fatigued GGL.
And now Verdasco is into his first tour level final since winning Houston in 2014 and that victory over Nico Almagro in America snapped a losing streak in finals that was at six stretching back to Barcelona 2010 when he beat Robin Soderling.
He’s been hitting the ball well all week and he would have to be slight favourite for this one against first time finalist Pouille in a first career clash between the pair.
But Verdasco’s record of 22-22 at main level in the price range of 1.60 to 1.70 favourite hardly inspires confidence and neither does his record overall of 6-13 in main level finals.
Pouille’s chances should be boosted by having played a leftie in Delbonis on Saturday and his two-hander stood up well enough to suggest that he could give Verdasco a tough time of it on Sunday.
There’ll be nerves on both sides here and I can’t see either of this pair winning easily, with the overs looking decent, but history is against it, with 14 of the last 15 Bucharest finals ending in two sets.
I’m on Verdasco anyway outright and slight preference would be for him, but it’s not a match that is at all appealing as a betting contest.
Tie break played looks about the best option at 2.43, but it’s not a contest for me to get further involved in.
Rafael Nadal vs Kei Nishikori
At around 16:30 UK time we’ll see the 10th career clash between Nadal and Nishikori, with the Spaniard a 1.39 chance to record a ninth win over the Japanese and also a ninth title in Barcelona.
And given the much-improved level that Rafa has shown in the last 10 days or so it seems likely that he’ll be picking up the winner’s trophy in the Catalan capital again on Sunday evening.
Both finalists have shown some very good form here this week and it could be a decent contest if Nishikori is able to serve well enough to keep Nadal away from his second serve, which remains fairly attackable.
Nishikori won only 37 percent of his second serve points on slow outdoor hard against Nadal at Indian Wells last month in a straight sets loss, but he had started that match well and had his chances to take a good lead in set one.
He didn’t take them though and faded away really badly and now that Nadal is getting closer and closer to peak form it looks too tall an order for Nishikori to play well enough for long enough to beat him on clay.
The Japanese is the two-time defending champion here in Barcelona though and he may well have a set in him on his best form in conditions he clearly feels comfortable in.
Fabio Fognini should have taken a set against Rafa and only narrowly failed to do so and Nishikori certainly has the level to go one step further than the Italian in that regard, but I can’t see him extending his much-mentioned deciding set record in this one.
It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to come out on top in a three set grind against Nadal in this sort of mood and even Andy Murray couldn’t manage it in Monte-Carlo, so I’m not sure that Kei will either.
Nishikori really took it to Nadal the last time they met on clay in Madrid and by rights he should have won it, but the body wouldn’t hold up, and I like the 3.90 about Nadal 2-1 here as a viable ‘long shot’.
Long shot: Back Nadal to beat Nishikori 2-1 at 3.90